In a stunning turn of events, the Pinellas County School Board voted Wednesday to hire Miami educator Alberto Carvalho as its next superintendent, only to hear hours later that Miami officials want him to be their superintendent, too.
The Miami-Dade School Board voted 5-3 to hire Carvalho after an earlier decision to sever ties with its controversial superintendent, Rudy Crew.
Carvalho, 43, declined an initial offer to be Miami-Dade's interim superintendent, saying he had a solid offer from Pinellas. But when the board offered him the permanent position after a bizarre series of motions, he said he would consider it.
"I couldn't even keep track of what was going on at one point," said Mark Herdman, a Pinellas lawyer who represents teachers and was at the board meeting in Miami.
The South Florida board took only minutes to get to the offer stage, in sharp contrast to Pinellas, which took four months to hire a consultant, engage the public and vet four finalists.
In Miami, Carvalho spoke of his love for the district where he spent his entire education career, starting as a high school teacher and rising to be second in command under Crew. But he also said he wanted to "honor the process" in Pinellas, where the School Board on Wednesday voted 4-3 to hire him after a contentious and sometimes emotional exchange of ideas.
With two offers in hand, he said late Wednesday that he would move within 48 to 72 hours to make a decision because "both of these communities deserve some degree of finality."
He said he planned to travel to Pinellas in the next day or so to speak with the three board members who voted against him — Mary Brown, Linda Lerner and Peggy O'Shea.
"I really would like to articulate a vision and see if there's a connection there," Carvalho said.
Asked whether money would play a role in his decision, he said, "Salary's actually the least of all my considerations."
His reported salary as a Miami-Dade associate superintendent is $190,000. Pinellas is offering from $200,000 to $240,000, with the final amount yet to be negotiated. Miami had not publicly made an offer as of last night but paid Crew $300,000 in salary, plus about $100,000 in benefits.
Carvalho repeated what he said in his interviews with the board, that Pinellas was committed to quality education and could go from "good to great." He added, "That is still extremely attractive to me."
He said he would choose the district with "the greatest opportunity to actually do the work that's in my head right now."
The School Board debate in Pinellas centered around whether to hire interim superintendent Julie Janssen, the safe internal candidate with 29 years in the district and the trust of district employees, or go with Carvalho, the polished outsider with new ideas, a deep knowledge of budgeting and experience in the nation's fourth-largest district.
Also, the board briefly discussed the possibility of hiring Nicholas Gledich, a top official with Orange County schools, as a compromise candidate.
Swirling around the decision were fears that an outsider might leave the district too soon, repeating Clayton Wilcox's departure earlier this year after less than four years as superintendent.
The board's choice of Carvalho left a bitter taste among some of the district's key partners — the teachers union, the administrators association and the Pinellas Education Foundation, all strongly aligned in favor of Janssen.
"When all those people with one voice say one thing, and the board goes another way, you have to question what the motive is," said Jade Moore, executive director of the teachers union.
Wilcox, who came to Pinellas from Baton Rouge, La., had good points and bad, Moore said. "And now we're doomed again."
The 4-3 vote left Carvalho in a difficult spot. Two of his supporters, Nancy Bostock and Jane Gallucci, are leaving the board in November. Another yes vote, Janet Clark, faces re-election and may not be back either.
That could leave Carol Cook as the only remaining board member who voted for Carvalho — and uncertainty as to how the new board would feel about him.
Contacted late Wednesday, Lerner said she would not talk to Carvalho again. "I wish him the best," she said. "And I hope he accepts Miami."
Said Brown: "I don't think he's a good fit for Pinellas, and his talking to me won't change that."
O'Shea said she is committed to working with the new superintendent and new board members, whoever they may be.
"I'm willing to talk to him any time," she said.
In three recent public interviews, Carvalho had begun to introduce himself to Pinellas. A Portuguese immigrant who came to the United States in 1982 at age 17, he speaks five languages: English, French, Portuguese, Spanish and conversational Italian.
He spoke in general terms about encountering tough times as a younger man in a new country but said he was a proud American.
His last name in Portuguese means "oak tree."
In addition to telling the board his ideas on high school reform, curriculum changes and budget issues, Carvalho spoke emphatically about the need for more character education and stronger instruction in civics.
Board members said they were impressed by his speaking skills and ideas.
He also said it was not his style to blow in with dramatic change and remove veteran Pinellas educators.
"By golly, you've been doing God's work right here. You have a right (to stay)," he said. "I value the work that people have been doing for years."
But he also said he would have "serious conversations" with educators who did not appear to have their heart in the work.
The Pinellas board made its decision shortly after noon on Wednesday. When several hours passed with no word back from Carvalho, many thought something was amiss.
By about 5 p.m., people in Pinellas were watching the live Internet stream of the Miami-Dade School Board's marathon meeting. Among them were Janssen and some of her staff, still at district headquarters.
Janssen said she would wait to see what happens with Carvalho. Watching the proceedings in Miami, she said, she admired how he handled the situation.
"The guy's smart," she said.