LARGO — Pinellas County superintendent John Stewart surprised some of his bosses Tuesday saying he would like to bow out of the job early.
"I will be leaving the district in December simply because of personal direction in my life," said Stewart, 68, who told the Tampa Bay Times he wanted to spend more time with his wife.
Two months ago, Stewart had agreed to stay through the end of the 2012-13 school year.
The unexpected news means the Pinellas school district will be pressing the gas pedal on the search for a new superintendent. A board subcommittee headed by member Linda Lerner will meet on Tuesday to discuss next steps.
"He's going to be hard to replace," board member Janet Clark said. "It's given me a more clear idea of what I want in a superintendent."
In the six months he has led the 101,000-student district, Stewart has gained the vocal support of a School Board that looked to him to steady the district after a tumultuous year.
In January, board members were so pleased Stewart agreed to stay longer than he originally planned that they offered to renegotiate his contract. It would have opened the door for them to give him a possible salary bump over the $12,000 a month — or $144,000 a year — salary he agreed to when he started in September as an interim replacement for ousted chief Julie Janssen.
But Stewart declined, calling his time in Pinellas the highlight of his career.
Asked Tuesday what made him change his mind on staying longer in Pinellas County, Stewart declined to go into specifics.
"I think it's time for me," he said. "I want to be with my wife."
Stewart said he shared his decision with board chairwoman Robin Wikle prior to Tuesday's meeting.
"I was floored," Wikle said, "and very disappointed, but I totally respect that sometimes you have to step back and reflect on where you are in life. He's been in education a long time and if he wants to spend some time with his honey, I get that."
Stewart led the Polk County school district for 13 years until 1996 and later spent three years working as deputy superintendent in Pinellas under Howard Hinesley. Stewart went on to join the Florida High School Athletic Association before retiring in 2009.
In August, board members fired Janssen amid concerns about her leadership. Her last day was Sept. 2. Stewart took over the next day.
Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or firstname.lastname@example.org.