Top pick for interim Pinellas schools leader negotiates contract

The Pinellas County School Board's top pick for interim superintendent will not be allowed to apply for the permanent position, according to the terms of a contract headed for a Tuesday vote.

John A. Stewart, 67, would receive $12,000 per month ($144,000 annually) beginning Sept. 3 if a majority of the seven-member board approves the employment agreement he negotiated with board chairwoman Carol Cook on Thursday afternoon.

Stewart, a former Polk County superintendent who served as Pinellas' deputy superintendent for three years under Howard Hinesley, would take the reins from Julie Janssen, whom the board fired effective Sept. 2.

Though Stewart this week said he wouldn't close the door to the possibility of accepting Janssen's position permanently, the draft contract assures, at the very least, that he "shall not be entitled to apply."

The wording provided comfort to board member Terry Krassner, who earlier this week expressed concern that having an interim person in place who has expressed an interest in the long-term position could limit search applicants. She and Linda Lerner were on the losing side of a 5-2 vote Tuesday to pursue contract negotiations with Stewart.

Krassner said Thursday that after meeting one on one with Stewart, she feels the district will be in good hands with him at the helm on a short-term basis.

"It was truly my understanding that he is coming on to let us have enough time to let us really do a thorough search," Krassner said.

Stewart, however, said he's not drawing any lines in the sand on his end.

"I never say never to anything," he said. "If we're going to be working together and let's say they want to have a positive relationship extended, they can do that. If they don't, they don't have to."

Cook said she still believes a search for a permanent replacement is in order.

Board members Peggy O'Shea, Lew Williams and Robin Wikle also met individually with Stewart on Thursday.

Lerner, who could not be reached Thursday, has said she feels the board is moving too quickly and should entertain the names of others who might be interested in the interim position.

During an interview with the St. Petersburg Times Thursday, however, Stewart said he would not be interested in the interim job if other candidates were also to interview.

Other terms of the employment contract scheduled for a 1 p.m. vote Tuesday:

• Stewart would receive an automobile allowance as well as 16 sick days and 18 vacation days per year.

• He would be required to reside in Pinellas County. Right now, he lives in Winter Haven, where he relocated after retiring from the Florida High School Athletic Association in 2009.

• He could not participate in the Florida Retirement System. Stewart already receives about $9,000 a month in retirement benefits due to his 30 years of service with the Polk County school district.

• Stewart would serve "at will" for an unspecified time. Both sides could terminate the contract at any time without cause.

Top pick for interim Pinellas schools leader negotiates contract 08/25/11 [Last modified: Thursday, August 25, 2011 11:36pm]

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