For more than three decades, Carl Kuttler and St. Petersburg College have been synonymous. The college president has led the school through a period of remarkable growth, expanded programs and built valuable partnerships with the city and countless other schools. His announced retirement signals the end of an era, and the college should conduct a thorough search for a successor who will be just as innovative in responding to a changing education landscape.
St. Petersburg College is considered the jewel of Florida's community college system and is respected throughout the state. Eight years ago, lawmakers allowed it to become the first community college to offer four-year degrees — a change that would not have spread if SPC had not been so successful. Now SPC offers more than 20 baccalaureate degrees, and Kuttler has been adept at spotting needs — like for more teachers and health care professionals — and filling the void.
Beyond expanding educational opportunities, Kuttler's entrepreneurial spirit has benefited both the college and the community. The college founded a charter high school and operates two museums. And Kuttler has helped to ensure downtown remains a vibrant arts destination by acquiring the Palladium Theater and helping to create the impressive complex that includes the Florida International Museum, the Florida Orchestra's headquarters and the new American Stage facilities. In some ways, SPC under Kuttler has been more visible, innovative and influential in the community than USF St. Petersburg.
But Kuttler also has his quirks. Like most college presidents, he can be prone to micromanaging and sometimes dictatorial. His successor may need different skills to lead SPC into a new era where the economic and educational challenges are evolving. That is why St. Petersburg College's board of trustees should conduct a methodical, broad-based search for a new president. Nobody, including outgoing St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, a potential candidate with a strong interest in education and close ties to some college trustees, should be handed the job on a platter.
Kuttler has steered St. Petersburg College to new heights. But there is only one Carl Kuttler, and the school's next president must have the vision and skills to build on his legacy.