Pinellas County taxpayers will never know if Mike Grego is the absolutely best candidate to lead Pinellas County schools. The former Osceola County superintendent, by all accounts an effective educator and personable candidate with ties to the Tampa Bay area, appears to be a valid option for the job. But due to a poorly executed search and the School Board's abbreviated selection process, he became the only viable option rather than the best option in a competitive field. As a result, Grego will arrive in a weaker position for not having faced more public scrutiny or vetting, assuming he negotiates a contract with the district. That said, Grego has potential and it is in every taxpayer's interest that he succeeds.
The School Board took roughly 30 minutes Tuesday to decide that Grego was the only one of three finalists worthy of consideration of the job — a reasonable conclusion after last week's public candidate interviews but a potentially superficial one. More significantly, the board also decided he need not face any additional competition. The seven board members — two of whom face re-election challenges in November — decided unanimously to forgo a new search process, which some members had suggested after the on-the-cheap search had turned up a significantly shallower pool of experienced urban district leaders than other recent searches in Florida.
Two board members, Terry Krassner and Robin Wikle, said they changed their minds about the search results after one-on-one interviews with Grego. And now voters — whose only firsthand exposure to Grego was the board's stilted public interview last week — are left with no recourse but to trust that somehow the vetting was more rigorous in private. Among the questions the public should have heard the answer to firsthand was why Grego left his job as Osceola superintendent after clashing with that district's School Board chairman.
Still, Grego's resume provides some hope for Pinellas, a district that is shedding students and losing ground in closing the achievement gap between white and minority students compared with other urban districts. In the high-poverty Osceola district, he oversaw a double-digit increase in the graduation rate, shaved energy costs and reprioritized the budget to improve teacher pay. Before that he was an assistant superintendent of curriculum in Hillsborough County and a trusted lieutenant of the retiring superintendent, Earl Lennard. He was a finalist during the 2005 search process that led to MaryEllen Elia being named Hillsborough's superintendent.
Grego, whose late parents had lived in Pinellas, said in his public interview that he would not be satisfied until the district ranked among the nation's best. It would have been nice to know if Grego held a similar ranking as a candidate. Assuming he negotiates a contract, he will need to prove himself. And Pinellas residents will have to hold the School Board accountable for making such a hasty choice with so little public input.