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Pinellas School Board questions superintendent candidate's application

Pinellas County School Board members are raising questions about the veracity of the application submitted by one of the three finalists for superintendent.

Christian Cutter, who is seeking the $225,000 to $275,000 job, has come under scrutiny for what one School Board member believes to be a "disingenuous" representation of his job title.

School Board member Linda Lerner also is concerned that Cutter included material that someone else wrote and presented it in a manner that could make it appear to be his own, titling it, "My Guiding Principles" and "Christian Cutter's Beliefs As Superintendent."

"I just felt this was a serious issue," Lerner told other board members at the end of a five-hour meeting Tuesday night.

The board then voted 4-3 to request a written explanation from Cutter before his August interview. Board members Robin Wikle, Glen Gilzean and Peggy O'Shea voted against it.

On his resume and in his cover letter, Cutter describes his current position with Colorado's Douglas County School District as "assistant superintendent."

Lerner said the title left her with the impression he was serving in a second-in-command position similar to a "deputy superintendent."

Cutter is one of two assistant superintendents for the 64,158-student Colorado district.

An organizational chart included in Douglas County's 2011-12 district financial report lists Cutter's job title as "assistant superintendent elementary learning." And a spokesman for the district said Cutter's official title is "assistant superintendent of elementary education."

But in an email to the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday, Cutter maintained his title "at the time of my application and currently is simply Assistant Superintendent." He conceded he is one of two in that position. His duties involve overseeing elementary schools, special education schools and early childhood programs, he said.

"I am sorry for any misinterpretation that may exist," he wrote.

Cutter said the "guiding principles" and "beliefs" statement represented the core beliefs he adopted as his own after "overseeing the construction and design of the strategic plan" for Colorado Springs School District 11 in the fall of 2009. He worked in the Colorado Springs school district from 2007 to 2010 as executive director of schools.

Nicholas Gledich, superintendent of Colorado Springs District 11, said he and another person wrote the guiding principles and beliefs statements five or six years ago while Gledich was a top official in Florida's Orange County school district.

Gledich, who was also a finalist for Pinellas superintendent in 2008 before going to Colorado in 2009, said the Colorado Springs board adopted the statement as part of its strategic plan, which Cutter helped to shape along with a team of people.

Gledich said he wasn't offended to hear that Cutter included it in his Pinellas superintendent application.

"There's no copyright on the guiding principles," Gledich said. "And he may believe that these guiding principles are needed."

Still, Lerner believes Cutter should have attributed the information. And Cutter agreed: "…I should have cited the origin of the principles I believe in and follow," he wrote.

On Tuesday night, board members Wikle and Gilzean criticized Lerner for veering from the board's agreed-upon hiring process, saying she seemed to be singling out a candidate she already appeared to dislike.

On his resume, Cutter lists among his achievements implementing Colorado's first voucher program — an issue Lerner opposes.

"I would ask Mrs. Lerner, who was totally against this person in the first place, if you put as much time and effort into the other two candidates," Wikle said during Tuesday's board meeting.

Lerner said she does question Cutter's involvement in the voucher movement, but she Googled phrases from his resume simply because something about it didn't sit right with her.

"The way it was done, it almost looked like pages of it were from a training manual or something," said Lerner, who doesn't support interviewing Cutter.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Wayne Blanton, the Florida School Boards Association leader whom the board hired to conduct its search, relayed to board members that he didn't intend to make contact with Cutter regarding their request.

Blanton said he already contacted Cutter once after Lerner told him of her concerns last week. Then, Blanton said, he related Cutter's explanation to Lerner — something Lerner disputes happened.

"However," the board's executive secretary wrote in an email to board members, summarizing Blanton's response, "Wayne shared that Dr. Cutter has said he is open to discuss this with each of the Board Members privately or in a public setting."

Cutter is competing with two other finalists for the position: Mike Grego, a former superintendent in Osceola County who was an assistant superintendent in Hillsborough County; and Constance Jones, chief academic officer for Lee County schools since 2003.

Times staff writer Cara Fitzpatrick contributed to this report. Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or rcatalanello@tampabay.com.

Pinellas School Board questions superintendent candidate's application 07/25/12 [Last modified: Thursday, July 26, 2012 12:28am]
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