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Pinellas school leaders begin to focus on finding a new superintendent

A day after Pinellas County School Board members voted to close the door on one superintendent, they were gearing up Wednesday to find another.

The question now is just how easy it will be to find the ideal candidate when fiscal and political pressures make leading a traditional public school system one seriously harried job.

"The pool of candidates is getting smaller because of our financial conditions," said Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association, which recently conducted searches for school districts in Lee, Osceola and Indian River counties.

Blanton said he used to get 85 to 90 applicants for one opening. That's down to 30 or 35 now. "But the quality of candidates has been excellent," he said.

State Sen. Bill Montford, chief executive officer of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, said Wednesday that he thinks Pinellas is an attractive lure for top candidates.

"But, on the other hand, it's difficult sometimes to attract apps for these jobs because it's so doggone hard," he said. "As some would describe it, it's not as much fun as it used to be."

Pinellas board members say they want someone with experience and vision who can build on the district's strengths and repair its weaknesses. All of the members have said they're open to searching for someone statewide and/or nationally. And, for obvious reasons, they'd like to keep the search costs low.

" 'As little as possible' is a beginning number," board chair Carol Cook said when asked what her ballpark price tag would be.

The Council of Great City Schools, a coalition of 66 of the nation's largest urban public school systems, conducts nationwide searches for superintendents and quotes for its services range from $40,000 to $100,000.

During its last search in 2008, Pinellas contracted with FSBA and spent $11,446 — which included advertising, consulting with Blanton and bringing in four candidates for interviews, according to district figures.

During that search, Pinellas picked Alberto Carvalho for the job. But when he chose Miami-Dade, the board went with Janssen, who was already serving as interim school chief.

The two other finalists then were Nicholas Gledich, chief operations officer for Orange County schools and now superintendent of a district in Colorado Springs; and Sherrie Nickell, who was associate superintendent for Polk County schools and is now running the district.

Competition could be an issue this time around, too, since Pinellas won't be the only big urban district looking for a new leader. Several school districts in Florida are looking for new superintendents — or will be soon — including Broward, Palm Beach, Seminole and Orange.

Nationally, Dallas-Fort Worth, Charlotte and Seattle are all currently in the hunt.

Even if those districts hire new leaders before Pinellas does, there's no doubt other big-district jobs will open up. The average tenure for urban superintendents was 3.64 years last year, according to the Council of the Great City Schools.

Still, Pinellas board members are optimistic their 101,000-student district will stand out.

"I think we should be very competitive and someone would be very privileged to come to our district," said board member Robin Wikle, citing good teachers and promising initiatives.

In the 256,000-student Broward school district, 44 people applied by last week's deadline to replace superintendent Jim Notter.

Among the bigger names were three who were forced out: former Palm Beach County superintendent Art Johnson, former Collier County superintendent Dennis Thompson and former Seattle superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson.

Lee County, with 82,000 students, also received more than 40 applications for its opening and picked former Monroe County superintendent Joseph Burke. He was sworn in July 1.

Lee's board chair Tom Scott said the district ended up with several strong candidates. And they were not deterred, he said, by tough times for Florida school districts, including budget cuts and far-reaching state mandates.

He suggested that would be true for Pinellas, too.

"This was a plum job," he said. "Who wouldn't want to live in Fort Myers? Who wouldn't want to live in St. Petersburg? There should be a run of candidates that should allow (Pinellas) to sift down to get the cream of the crop."

One other question is how pay will factor in recruitment.

Janssen's salary of $203,000 a year doesn't appear to compare well nationally.

Among the Council of Great City Schools member districts, the average superintendent salary in school systems with 50,000 to 100,000 students was $253,000 last year.

The average for districts with 100,000 to 200,000 students was $275,000.

The Pinellas School Board is set to discuss the search during a workshop Tuesday, the same day it will meet officially to consider hiring John Stewart, a former top Pinellas administrator, as interim superintendent.

After months of tumultuous relations with Janssen, board members said they're eager to move on.

"I just want the best candidate," said board member Terry Krassner. "I don't care where they come from."

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at rcatalanello@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8707.

Pinellas school leaders begin to focus on finding a new superintendent 08/24/11 [Last modified: Thursday, August 25, 2011 12:42am]
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