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Timing is tough for Pinellas schools' superintendent search

In the search for a new leader for Pinellas County Schools, timing may be everything.

The economy is bad. An election is coming. The job, as chief executive officer of the state's seventh-largest school system, is arguably tougher than ever.

Even worse, Pinellas County is coming a little late to the party — Broward, Palm Beach, Orange, Seminole and Monroe counties each hired a new superintendent in the past 10 months, conducting nationwide searches. Duval County schools also is hiring now.

"There's a small cadre of quality superintendents throughout the United States and we're all competing for the same people," said Thomas Jacobson, co-founder of McPherson & Jacobson LLC, a national recruiting firm that conducted the Orange County search and is handling Duval County's.

Pinellas County netted more candidates than some districts, pulling in 50 applicants by last week's deadline compared with 47 in Broward and 21 in Orange. But the overall quality of the Pinellas candidate pool is more mixed — and most of the candidates with experience as a superintendent in Florida were passed over by other counties.

Harry La Cava, former superintendent of Indian River County, has been a candidate at least four other times. Dennis Thompson, former superintendent of Collier County, applied at least three other times.

Bad timing, a poor economy and aggressive state education policies could explain the slimmer applicant pool in Pinellas, said Bill Montford, chief executive officer of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents.

"People are just cautious now," he said. "I think that's reflected in the applicants."

Broward and Orange drew candidates from the top tiers of urban school districts nationwide, including Los Angeles, Chicago, Baltimore, Seattle and Portland. Applicants included superintendents, chief financial officers, deputy superintendents, businessmen, even a military commander.

Broward hired Robert Runcie, a former business leader who worked for Chicago Public Schools, while Orange picked Barbara Jenkins, its homegrown deputy superintendent.

Pinellas drew similar applicants during its 2008 search. That year, finalists included Alberto Carvalho, then associate superintendent of Miami-Dade schools; Nicholas Gledich, then chief operations officer for Orange County schools; Julie Janssen, then the district's interim superintendent; and Sherrie Nickell, then associate superintendent for Polk County schools.

This time, the search got off to a rough start, drawing its first few candidates from the construction industry — the result of a misunderstanding created by an advertisement on the online job site

Just one out-of-state candidate, William Miller of the Washtenaw Intermediate School District in Michigan, has recent experience running a school system larger than 25,000 students. Washtenaw has about 50,000 students.

Two candidates come from the top ranks of Florida school districts — Constance Jones, chief academic officer of Lee County, and Kathryn LeRoy, chief academic officer of Duval County. Jones also was a finalist for superintendent in Palm Beach County.

Board members have been mostly mum about the results of the search — they'll cull finalists during a July 17 meeting. Some community members have suggested that a national search firm would have found a broader pool of applicants.

Board members chose Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association, to guide the search. Blanton has been involved in about 75 searches over the course of 30 years, including recent ones in Palm Beach, Lee and Seminole counties.

Blanton hasn't returned calls for comment about the search results.

Elliott Stern, a School Board candidate in District 1, said the board needs a firm that will solicit individuals, rather than put out advertisements.

"We need a professional, as far as I'm concerned," he said.

The Pinellas Education Foundation, a business-led nonprofit that raises money to benefit local schools, was a vocal advocate for a national search done by a head-hunting firm.

Jim Myers, chairman of the foundation, said he hasn't vetted any candidates, so he couldn't comment on the search results. But he said they wanted a national firm because it would have a "chance to get a broader base of applicants at least."

"It's just such a key critical decision for our district that will affect us for many years to come," he said.

Jacobson said for a district like Pinellas his firm would try to recruit experienced superintendents in midsized districts and up-and-comers — assistant superintendents, deputy superintendents and the like — from larger districts.

"A lot of the good candidates that we recruit are doing a good job where they are and aren't looking for a job," he said.

Wooing them requires a lot of networking and phone calls, he said.

But Jacobson said the school boards association runs a "good service." Many school districts have sought out their services to save money, too. His firm is charging Duval County about $30,900 for its search, according to the contract. Pinellas expects to spend about $20,000.

Montford said it may just be a tough time to recruit a lot of quality people.

A deputy superintendent working for a good superintendent might be reluctant to leap into a bigger, more precarious role, he said. Particularly since there might not be a job waiting if it doesn't work out.

"A lot of your top-level executives, public and private, aren't taking the chance to move," he said.

Cara Fitzpatrick can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or on Twitter @Fitz_ly.

Superintendent search

The requirements

• A master's degree, with a doctorate preferred

• Ten years of successful administrative experience, with at least five of senior-level experience in a school district of at least 25,000 students

• Extensive experience in education leadership and administration

• Equivalent leadership and administrative experience in business, industry or the military will be considered.

Candidates by the numbers

33 have at least 10 years of administrative experience

12 have at least five years of senior-level experience in a district of 25,000 or above

Of the 12, eight have been superintendents

Of the eight, four have been superintendents in Florida

Of the four, two were voted out by their school boards, one was forced to retire and one quit

7 have sought three or more Flor­ida superintendent jobs

2 are veteran superintendents in small districts outside Florida

2 already work in Pinellas schools

The landscape

School districts that searched for new leaders in the past year or are doing so.

DistrictEnrollmentWho searchedWho they hired
Broward258,000Ray & AssociatesRobert Runcie, business leader who worked for

Chicago schools
Palm Beach170,000Florida School Boards Assoc.Wayne Gent, interim superintendent
Orange150,681FSBABarbara Jenkins,

deputy superintendent
Duval125,000McPherson & JacobsonOngoing
Seminole64,000FSBAWalt Griffin, director

secondary education
Monroe8,342FSBAMark Porter, superintendent from Minnesota

The last search

The finalists for Pinellas County Schools superintendent in 2008:

Alberto Carvalho, then associate superintendent of Miami-Dade schools. Offered the top job in Pinellas job, but withdrew to become the superintendent in Miami-Dade.

Julie Janssen, then interim superintendent of Pinellas County Schools, she was hired as superintendent when Carvalho withdrew. She was fired in 2011.

Sherrie Nickell, then associate superintendent for Polk County schools, she became superintendent of Polk County schools in 2010.

Nicholas Gledich, then chief operations officer for Orange County schools, he is now a superintendent in Colorado.

Sources: School district websites, Orlando Sentinel, Miami Herald and Times archives

Timing is tough for Pinellas schools' superintendent search 07/07/12 [Last modified: Sunday, July 8, 2012 12:41am]
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