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Pinellas School Board members committed to 'process' in superintendent search

LARGO — The Pinellas County School Board spent thousands of dollars in the search for the best superintendent and now they're poised to spend more to bring in three people for two days of interviews.

But when you talk with Pinellas County School Board members about the folks they're bringing in, you hear very little enthusiasm.

Linda Lerner wants to eliminate one from the interview altogether. Terry Krassner didn't vote in favor of bringing any of the three finalists in for interviews. Robin Wikle and Glen Gilzean wanted to hold off on interviews and expand the search. And Janet Clark, Peggy O'Shea and Carol Cook say they want to meet the three, but none of them sound particularly electrified.

So, why is the Pinellas County School Board moving ahead? Commitment to "process," they say.

"This is what the majority of the board said they wanted to do," chairwoman Wikle said Monday, a moment before reconsidering why she herself advocated devotion to the process.

Wikle on Tuesday made an overture to call a Special Board meeting to continue the board's discussion about whether board members still share that conviction to move forward with the interviews. "I just want to make sure as a board that we're all still on the same page with the same process for superintendent."

She backed away from calling the meeting, though, after sensing a lack of support from some of her fellow members.

"It's too late now," Lerner said, reminding the others that they voted 5-2 a week earlier against her motion to call a special board meeting to discuss questions surrounding Christian Cutter's application.

"I think the board had its chance," Lerner continued, "and voted it down."

The board is poised to spend about $1,550 on flights, hotel and meals for the candidates when they come to meet the board Aug. 22-23.

Scheduled to interview are Cutter, an assistant superintendent for the Douglas County School District in Colorado; Constance Jones, chief academic officer for Lee County schools; and Mike Grego, a former Osceola County superintendent who also served as assistant superintendent in Hillsborough.

Last week, the board voted 4-3 to ask Cutter for a written explanation regarding Lerner's questions about Cutter.

Cutter wrote on his resume that his title is "assistant superintendent," without pointing out that he is one of two. He also included some material about his "guiding principles" and "beliefs" without attributing it to its source, a former Florida superintendent who now leads a Colorado Springs school district that Cutter once worked for.

Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association who the district agreed to pay $20,000 to conduct the search, declined to deliver the board's request to Cutter. Blanton instead informed the board that Cutter is open to discussing the matter in public or one-on-one.

Several board members said they were surprised by Blanton's decision.

"Technically, his job is done," said Gilzean, who advocated looking beyond FSBA from the start, even though it offered a more inexpensive search than a national firm would have provided. "You get what you pay for."

Regardless of the board's seemingly lukewarm temperature about the pool so far, Clark said she too is in favor of following through with the original plan: "We have at least two viable candidates," she said, referring to Jones and Grego.

Board member O'Shea said she's "interested" in all three. And even though she stops short of saying she's "excited" about them, she said it would be unwise to abort the process now based on board members' assumptions.

"We may be very excited after the 22nd or the 23rd," she said.

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or rcatalanello@tampabay.com.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story included inaccurate dates for superintendent candidates. This story has been corrected to reflect the actual dates, Aug. 22-23.

Pinellas School Board members committed to 'process' in superintendent search 07/31/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 10:21am]
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