Pinellas County schools superintendent John Stewart so far appears to be a careful steward of tax dollars, ending wasteful spending and looking for ways to mete out scarce resources where they will do the most good for the students in the classroom.
Case in point: Uncertain what the district was actually going to gain from a partnership with the University of Florida's Lastinger Center for Learning to research low black student achievement, he has effectively ended that venture. But he has not given up on the need to close the achievement gap, which continues to be a pressing issue. Just Tuesday, he was meeting with representatives from St. Petersburg College and the University of South Florida to discuss how they could combine to fight the problem using homegrown talent.
Another example: Faced with widespread perceptions that the district is top-heavy, Stewart did not become defensive but hired outsiders — at a budget price — to perform a reality check and make recommendations.
A third example: Also on Tuesday, Stewart started looking at the district's $17.2 million program that leases rather than buys computers. Stewart doesn't yet know if changes are needed, but he knows a budget item that large deserves scrutiny.
Of course, not all of his suggestions will be welcomed by all, particularly on pocketbook issues such as limiting how much banked sick leave a retiree can cash out.
But in three months, Stewart has brought a refreshing common sense and lack of drama to the business of running the district. To acknowledge that, the School Board has dropped the "interim" from his title. He has agreed to stay on through the end of 2012 as the district searches nationally for its next leader. If his hand remains steady, his successor will find a district in much better shape than when he came on board.