Saturday, April 21, 2018
Education

Pinellas School Board turns to Wayne Blanton for help with another superintendent search

The last time Wayne Blanton came to town to help the Pinellas County School Board search for a new superintendent it didn't end well.

He helped district leaders pick Alberto Carvalho from Miami-Dade, but Carvalho turned them down when he was offered the top job in his home district. The Pinellas board then voted 7-0 to award the superintendency to Julie Janssen, their own home-grown star.

Three years later, the board again voted 7-0, this time to fire her — not exactly the outcome they envisioned in 2008 when they embarked on the $11,446 search.

Yet today, Pinellas board members again look to Blanton, the executive director of the Florida School Boards Association, for help in finding a long-term replacement.

Blanton estimates he's guided Florida school boards through about 75 searches over the course of 30 years. He told the Tampa Bay Times this week that he's already gotten inquiries from strong leaders outside the state who are interested in the Pinellas job.

Blanton, who has been at the association since 1975, played a key — albeit informal — role in helping the board find John Stewart as an interim replacement for Janssen. The board now plans to pay him up to $20,000 to find a permanent leader.

"He knows all the major players," Stewart told board members last month as they debated whether to seek his help again. "He knows the state of Florida like the back of his hand, he knows every issue of education that you would expect him to know."

While every superintendent-school board relationship doesn't end as both sides may hope, Blanton said he aims to give the board enough strong choices that it would be hard to make a bad decision.

"It's always my goal to bring in a superintendent candidate who can stay there for 10 years," Blanton said.

Blanton helped Pinellas land Howard Hinesley as superintendent from 1991 to 2004. He also cites the nine-year tenure of former superintendent Earl Lennard in Hillsborough County as among his stronger matches.

But experts say that kind of tenure is rare. The average length of service for a school superintendent in a large urban district is between three and four years, longer in smaller districts.

In the last year, Blanton assisted with searches in Palm Beach, Lee, Indian River and Osceola counties, among others.

In Palm Beach, after narrowing the field down to four finalists, the board there decided to hire its interim superintendent E. Wayne Gent, who wasn't on the original list.

The Osceola County School Board abandoned its search, opting to tap its interim leader as well. Terry Andrews replaced Osceola superintendent Michael Grego, who resigned following public difficulties with a board member. Blanton had helped Osceola find Grego in 2008.

Asked if he could think of any searches that he helped with that he didn't consider successes, Blanton said he could not.

He said he sees his role simply as advertising the position, backgrounding candidates, checking references and making recommendations about whom he believes to be the top candidates.

"I try to make their decision the most difficult it can be," he said. "They (the candidates) can all interview well and they can all run the school system."

Pinellas County School Board member Linda Lerner participated in the last two Pinellas superintendent searches in 2004 and 2008.

She said she favored hiring Blanton again because she felt the quality of candidates he brought was stronger than those they received in a more expensive national search in 2004 that landed Clayton Wilcox from Louisiana.

Lerner said her feelings about Blanton's expertise didn't change as a result of the turn of events involving Carvalho and Janssen.

"I still feel that was a good search," she said. "You know, it's hard to say until the person is in the role."

Times researchers Natalie Watson and Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or [email protected]

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