The last time Pinellas school board members went looking for a new superintendent, they took 10 months.
Longtime superintendent Howard Hinesley had announced his retirement two years in advance, so the board took time to sample public opinion and massage the list of qualities they wanted in a new leader. They sought a fresh face to take the district in new directions.
Five years later, as Hinesley's replacement, Clayton Wilcox, prepares to leave after less than four years, the scenario is different. The board is looking for someone to handle a budget crisis, usher in a new student assignment plan and juggle other initiatives Wilcox put in play.
Unlike 2003, there is little time to waste.
As board members prepare to discuss Wilcox's replacement in a workshop today, most agree they must act quickly to select an interim superintendent and decide how to find a permanent successor.
"I would like to move with some speed and get it over with," said board member Janet Clark.
Said board member Mary Brown: "I'm not interested in this district missing a beat."
Should the board choose a top administrator already on staff? If not, should they search nationally or statewide?
Should the board decide on a permanent superintendent, or leave it to the new board that will be seated after the fall elections?
Board members have some firm ideas about which way to go, yet are willing to be swayed.
"I do not want to do a full national search," said board member Linda Lerner.
"I believe that we can put out a national search and still have a superintendent by the fall," said board member Jane Gallucci, who argued that now is when candidates are looking around.
"I really want to look at everything that's out there," said board member Carol Cook.
Cook and Gallucci also agreed that the interim superintendent should not seek the permanent job. Employees who don't favor the interim might try to undermine him or her, or the interim might gain an unfair edge over other candidates, Cook said.
Board member Nancy Bostock said she sees the point, but asked: "What if the interim turns out to be fabulous? That is what I'm grappling with. Why would we want to limit ourselves?"
Bostock said one of the board's decisions will be whether to conduct a national search now or leave it to the new board, which could have four new members.
She sees pluses to both approaches. Letting the new board choose would enhance the chemistry of the district's top leaders. On the other hand, it might be asking a lot of a new board to choose a superintendent as it gets up to speed, Bostock said.
Brown said she favors selecting one of Wilcox's top deputies as the interim and giving that person a yearlong contract.
If it works out, the interim becomes permanent. If it doesn't, the district starts searching.
"I think it would bring a settling to the district," Brown said. "Then people will know who they're dealing with."
Thomas C. Tobin can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8923.