Retired education administrator John Stewart may be a perfectly fine interim superintendent for Pinellas schools. He is a former Pinellas deputy superintendent, ran the Polk County school system for more than a decade and worked at the state level. But before the School Board hires Stewart on Tuesday, it needs a straight answer from him about whether he's interested in the permanent job. If he is, then the board needs to find someone else to temporarily steer the district.
The search for a permanent superintendent to replace Julie Janssen should not be compromised by a power play to install a temporary leader who would have a leg up in the process. This moment is too important for the district and the community to make a quick decision that skews the search or to pinch pennies. There should be a comprehensive, wide-open search to find the best talent available. That is going to take time, and it is not going to be cheap.
An interim superintendent with ties to the community who applies for the permanent position could scare away potential candidates, particularly those who might leave their current job for Pinellas. The next few months would become a job audition rather than a public service to steady the district. And every decision the temporary superintendent makes would be re-evaluated in terms of whether it is good policy for the moment or good politics to curry favor with School Board members.
The proposed contract the School Board will consider Tuesday says Stewart could not apply for the permanent job, and that's good. Stewart could be a capable interim superintendent, and there surely are others who also could fill the void. But anyone who wants the permanent job should compete for it on a level playing field and not be the district's temporary leader.