Pinellas County School Board members on Tuesday voted unanimously to fire superintendent Julie Janssen.
Finding a temporary replacement was another story.
Board members voted 5-2 to direct board chair Carol Cook and School Board attorney Jim Robinson to begin contract negotiations with John Stewart, a former Pinellas deputy superintendent.
Board members Linda Lernerand Terry Krassner voted against the motion, saying they have no problem with Stewart, but want to consider other candidates, especially since, by some estimates, the interim might run the district for as long as nine months.
Lerner said the quick decision signals the opposite of the collaborative spirit board members have touted for months.
"If," she said, "the board, at this board table, (does this) without due diligence, deliberation, discussion, without opening up the process to have a process for the interim, you know what? You're not doing your job, in my opinion."
Stewart, who lives in Winter Haven, said on Tuesday he's not surprised by the division.
"When you have a seven person board, there's going to be multiple opinions about anything," he said.
Stewart, 67, holds a doctorate in education from Florida Atlantic University and served as Polk County superintendent from 1983 to 1996. He retired with more than 30 years of public service and currently draws $9,068 in monthly retirement pay, according to the Florida Department of Management Services.
After leaving Polk, Stewart went on to work as deputy commissioner of educational programs at the state Department of Education for two years.
In 2000, he became then Pinellas superintendent Howard Hinesley's No. 2. He held the spot until 2003 when he left to help run the Florida High School Athletic Association, according to his resume.
"He brings knowledge of Pinellas County schools as well as time away from Pinellas County schools," said Cook, who likes the political distance that suggests.
Stewart said he hopes to meet with Cook and Robinson Thursday or Friday. And he didn't close the door on the possibility of putting his name in the hat for the permanent position.
That's what worries Krassner.
She said Hinesley, one of her mentors, once told her that it's easier to attract candidates for a superintendent vacancy if there isn't someone already filling in who is also in the running.
For that reason, Krassner suggested Tuesday that district administrator Charlene Einsel be the temporary replacement.
"It would be truly an acting," Krassner said. "She would not be interested in the (permanent) job."
Hinesley, who retired in 2004 after a 14-year tenure, agreed that having an interim without long-term, full-time dreams is an advantage.
Still, he called Stewart an "outstanding administrator, a man of integrity. A man of faith. A level-headed guy who has a lot of experience having been teacher, school administrator, deputy, commissioner."
Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or firstname.lastname@example.org.