Faced with an uncertain future, the Pinellas County School Board turned to a familiar face Thursday, informally choosing veteran educator Julie M. Janssen to be interim superintendent.
Janssen, the top deputy under outgoing superintendent Clayton Wilcox since 2006, will be the first female superintendent in the 96-year history of Pinellas public schools.
"For the good of the system, I felt we needed to go forward, and we have an able and perfectly wonderful candidate in front of us," board member Jane Gallucci said.
"It was a good feeling," Janssen said after a board workshop that also dealt with a $43-million budget deficit and the possibility of wage cuts for thousands of employees.
The board intends to make the decision official with a vote at its next regular meeting, on May 13. After that, Janssen, 59, will carry the title "designate" interim superintendent until June 3, when Wilcox departs for a job at Scholastic Corp. She will lead the district until the board finds a permanent replacement through a national search.
The board could not agree on whether Janssen will be able to apply for the permanent job. Board members Nancy Bostock, Carol Cook and Gallucci said they feared that candidates would hesitate to apply if they perceived that an internal candidate had an advantage. They urged the board to exclude Janssen from the process, with the promise that she'll continue as a deputy.
Janssen opened the way for Thursday's decision when she let it be known she would accept the interim job under those terms.
But board members Mary Brown, Linda Lerner and Peggy O'Shea said Janssen should be allowed to apply for the permanent job. Board member Janet Clark did not take a position, leaving the issue unresolved.
The board will seek the advice of Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association, who will lead the national search.
"If they decide with confidence that they could line me up against the rest of (the candidates), I'll do that," Janssen said. "And if not, I really am very happy with my decision."
The cost of the search will be $6,000 plus expenses, for a total of up to $25,000.
Noting the budget situation, Clark pressed the board to enforce a clause in Wilcox's contract that requires him to pay the cost of a superintendent search, up to $60,000, if he "unilaterally" terminates his contract before June 30.
But other board members noted that the separation was not unilateral — that they agreed he could leave on June 3. If the board were to rescind that decision, Wilcox would stay until June 30, negating the obligation.
Board members said the arrangement works out to be cheaper anyway. If Wilcox were to stay until June 30, the district would have to pay him $28,000 in salary. Avoiding that cost saves more money than the district would gain by collecting $25,000 for the search.
Janssen will negotiate with School Board attorney Jim Robinson about a pay increase to match her increased responsibilities. Her current salary is $130,000 plus a $3,000 stipend for her doctoral degree.
Janssen was born in Belize, but her Pinellas County roots run deep. She attended Disston Junior High and graduated from Boca Ciega High in 1966.
She joined the district in 1970 as a teacher at Perkins Elementary but soon returned to Belize, where she taught for nine years. She came back to Pinellas in 1981 and taught at Morgan Fitzgerald Middle, Pasadena Elementary and Pinellas Technical Education Centers.
By 1983, she was a math teacher at Lakewood High, and in 1991 she became an assistant principal. She became principal at Countryside High in 1998 and moved to St. Petersburg High as principal in 2004.
Janssen has a bachelor's degree in education from the University of South Florida and a master's degree in educational leadership from Nova Southeastern University. She earned her doctoral degree from USF in 2001.
A Treasure Island resident, she has four grown children.
She said she's a good listener with a long and varied history in the district.
The budget crisis will be a struggle, she said, but she noted that she's been deeply involved with Wilcox in looking for cuts, including a proposed 2 percent wage cut.
"I think when teachers see transparency, that we're not hiding anything, I really believe that we'll pull together,'' Janssen said.
Thomas C. Tobin can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8923