After 12 years on the Pinellas School Board, Jane Gallucci has been here before.
A big issue stands before you like a fork in the road. Each path has something to offer, but you get to choose only one. The people you represent pull you in opposite directions.
That dynamic is at work once again as Gallucci, who leaves the board in November, takes part in one last big decision — choosing a new superintendent from a field of three well-qualified candidates.
People have pulled board members aside at district headquarters, lobbied them over lunch, called and sent e-mails. One person phoned Gallucci at home on the Sunday before Labor Day.
Business people, city officials, community leaders, school district employees, interested citizens.
"Everybody has an idea about what they want in a superintendent," Gallucci said. "People just say, 'Can I put my 2 cents in?' … People are getting to us no matter where we go."
The public takes an even more visible role this week with opportunities to meet the three finalists and pose questions at a forum Monday evening. After that, people can weigh in at two public hearings.
The first hearing occurs during the board's regular meeting Tuesday night; the second will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday — after board members make their final choice in a workshop that morning but before they take a final vote.
The board must choose among Alberto Carvalho, an associate superintendent for Miami-Dade schools; Nicholas Gledich, chief operations officer for Orange County schools; and interim Pinellas superintendent Julie Janssen.
Several board members have said that any one of them could run the Pinellas school system, the 23rd largest in the nation. They'll be listening not only to what the finalists say but how they say it. It wouldn't hurt, some said, to see someone put them on the hot seat.
"I'm real interested to see how they interact with the public," said board member Carol Cook. "We have to find someone who can reach the community."
Cook listed the things that would turn her off about a candidate. They include pandering to the crowd or "saying a lot of words without saying anything."
The public can help by giving meaningful input, she said. "What I'm going to be listening for is not, 'Please hire this person' but what is it about that person that is right for Pinellas County."
Asked to estimate what percentage of her decision would depend on public input, Cook said 10 to 15 percent. But she added: "That 10 percent could be what throws you over."
Board member Mary Brown put the number at 15 to 20 percent, but said it would have to be compelling information.
She said she has a strong preference for Janssen, the home-grown candidate who began her career in Pinellas in 1970. If someone were to change her mind, she said, they would have to say something that put one of the other candidates "head and shoulders" above Janssen.
The public input "will give some weight to my decision, but I also know that the final decision rests with the board and we are aware of some things that the public might not be aware of," Brown said. "I want stability, and I think our in-house person will bring us that."
Gallucci has a different set of wants — "a little bit more of a risk taker" for one.
"I don't want to rock the district but I want the district to go to the next level," she said. "I want some fire. I want somebody that doesn't take us down (old) paths."
Just as in this year's presidential race, much of the debate over a new superintendent has centered around experience.
Carvalho, 43, worked for eight years at the school level as a teacher and assistant principal, and as a "principal intern" for one summer. He has been a district-level administrator for 10 years, often serving in the No. 2 role to Miami-Dade superintendent Rudy Crew. All 18 years have been spent in Miami-Dade, the nation's fourth-largest school system.
Gledich, 55, has worked about 32 years for Orange County schools, the nation's 12th largest school system. He spent 20 years in schools as a teacher, assistant principal and principal and 12 years as a district-level administrator. He is in superintendent Ron Blocker's executive cabinet.
Janssen, 59, spent 27 years in schools working as a teacher, assistant principal and principal. Eight of those years were as a math and English instructor in her native Belize; the rest was in Pinellas.
In 2006, after eight years as a principal at Countryside and St. Petersburg high schools, then-superintendent Clayton Wilcox made her his top deputy. She's in her fourth month as interim superintendent.
Board members also will be looking at other qualities.
Janssen comes with a deep knowledge of the district and community ties spanning years. For many, including board members Mary Brown and Linda Lerner, she is seen as a safe choice who could bring stability to the district after Wilcox's sometimes controversial tenure as a change agent.
Carvalho has lobbied for Miami-Dade schools in Tallahassee and knows well how things work in the state capital. He has shown skill at attracting millions of dollars in grant money to his district and says he would do the same to help Pinellas through tough budget times. He impressed board members last month by coming to his interview with a detailed understanding of Pinellas' student performance issues.
Gledich has perhaps the most balanced background of the three, with significant experience both in schools and in administration. As a district-level administrator, he has been in charge of curriculum issues and has headed the operations side of the system, including buses, food services and purchasing.
Some board members spoke favorably about his way of attacking problems using data, but they questioned whether he had the "people skills" for the job.
Which of these veteran educators is best fit for Pinellas?
With a seven member school board that is struggling to reach a consensus, the public's input could help provide some clarity.
"I'm still open" to all the candidates, Gallucci said. "I see things I like about each one of them."
Thomas C. Tobin can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8923.