Pinellas superintendent Clayton Wilcox takes umbrage at the notion he could be bought for a meal or theater ticket services, but his unusually close relationship with Scholastic Inc. speaks as much to loyalty as it does to ethics. When a superintendent tells a company with a failing product that he will "do what it takes to earn your confidence back," he needs to examine the signature at the bottom of his paycheck.
Unfortunately, as a pattern of his e-mails demonstrates, Wilcox was on the job market no later than 30 months into his tenure in Pinellas. His obsequious reply to a Scholastic executive came in the context of a heated public debate in 2006 in which School Board members complained about a reading program the district had purchased from the company. He went on to write: "I hope that I have not jeopardized our friendship or somehow damaged our relationship because of my lack of real leadership with my Board on this vitally important initiative."
Eight months later, in April 2007, Wilcox was discussing job titles and salaries with Scholastic.
Nothing in Wilcox's relationship with Scholastic or other companies suggests he was enriching himself or undermining the school district. He did, after all, bring to Pinellas schools a new era of openness and public transparency. But what he ignores by dismissing the significance of free meals and arranged Broadway tickets is that he was setting a standard for himself that would have been unacceptable for teachers.
District policy is clear that employees are not to accept anything of value from vendors who want to influence purchasing decisions. Is the superintendent above the rules?
Wilcox is headed off to his new job as a Scholastic vice president next month, and his tenacity for change will certainly be missed. He is aggravated with the Times for reporting on what he calls his "little bitty favor," and he is entitled to put things in broader context. But what his correspondence with Scholastic reveals, at a minimum, is his uncertain allegiances. He will serve as superintendent for four months shy of four years, but it appears he was intent on moving on much sooner than that.