LARGO — In another sign of its heightened interest in Pinellas public school management, a key group of business leaders has arranged to meet alone with the man School Board members hired to run the search for the next superintendent.
Pinellas Education Foundation leaders plan to have an audience with Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association, on May 3 to give more input on the kind of person they believe should lead the 101,000-student district.
When superintendent John Stewart alerted members of the Pinellas County School Board about Blanton's trip from Tallahassee for the scheduled appointment, several expressed concern.
"Is the foundation paying for it?" board member Janet Clark asked during a full-day board workshop.
"It's our search," board member Linda Lerner said.
"If we are paying for it, then I want him to meet with some other community stakeholders as well," board member Glenton Gilzean Jr. said.
News of the meeting comes two weeks after the Pinellas Education Foundation, a business-led nonprofit that raises money to benefit schools, released a 37-page report recommending millions of dollars in spending cuts and called for the board to hire a national search firm rather than Blanton.
Craig Sher, chairman of the Pinellas Education Foundation, said late Tuesday that he hopes to impress upon Blanton his group's interest in tapping nontraditional superintendent candidates with business or military backgrounds.
"We think, No. 1, they could think a little more out-of-the-box and not have someone who's just come up through the ranks in Florida," Sher said.
But board members indicated discomfort with the prospect of being excluded from the pow-wow.
"Would we maybe have the option of being there, too?" board member Terry Krassner asked.
Stewart said he would check with both parties and get back to the board.
In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, Sher said he would have to think about whether to include board members — and he said he doesn't want to include the public, though he declined to elaborate.
"We have our own things we want to talk about," Sher said. "I guess what we don't want is to make it a Sunshine-able event. The last thing I want to do is invite the public. … We want to have our own audience. I imagine you can understand why."
If at least two board members attended the meeting, Florida's public meeting laws, known as the "Sunshine" laws, mandate the meeting would have to be publicly noticed and open.
The board has contracted to pay Blanton up to $20,000 to help them organize the search, find potential candidates and sort through resumes.
Sher said the foundation is not planning to pay for Blanton's visit to Pinellas.
Blanton, who estimates he has guided Florida school boards through about 75 searches over the course of 30 years, could not be reached Tuesday evening for comment.
Though board members have been clear with Blanton that they want to pull from a national pool of candidates, Sher has said he's not satisfied the FSBA's help will be on par with the expertise of a more expensive executive head-hunting firm.
"To me, a national search isn't just putting an ad in a newspaper," Sher said.
Lerner said that while she appreciates the foundation leaders' ideas and help, "I think we need to have this discussion together."
Stewart, who is leaving his post in December, said he believes the meeting between Blanton and the foundation leaders will be useful. "I've known Wayne for a long, long time," he said. "He's not against meeting with anybody."
The board is expected to set the advertised salary range for the post at $225,000 to $275,000.
Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or firstname.lastname@example.org.