For the past couple of years, Tom Weightman has talked openly about how much he looked forward to retiring in January after 22 years as Pasco school superintendent.
Now that Assistant Superintendent John Long has no opposition in the campaign race for school district chief, Weightman has decided to speed things up.
On Thursday, Weightman mailed Gov. Lawton Chiles a resignation letter, saying he wants to step down as of Aug. 31 and asking if Long can take the post then rather than waiting until a January inauguration.
Although the governor will not have the letter for a day or two, Chiles already knows Weightman wants to step down early. The governor has been in touch with Long, who expects to meet with Chiles soon and receive the official nod to take charge.
Weightman, who turns 61 next month, said he wanted Long to be in place before the school year got too far under way. School begins Aug. 26.
"I just felt this was a good time," Weightman said Thursday at his Land O'Lakes office. "I just think it's important for a smooth transition that he go ahead and establish his administration."
In truth, the transition has been under way for some months. Weightman has increasingly turned the day-to-day running of the district over to Long, who has been an assistant superintendent for 20 years and is a former state House member.
As School Board member Marge Whaley watched Weightman begin to relinquish more of his duties to Long, she worried abit.
"I thought, "You know, at some point egos could get involved here and who will be in charge?' But it has been the most gracious and grateful change of power that I have ever seen. That's what Tom is _ a gracious, competent leader, who is secure enough in himself to do this now."
Long has been involved in most major decisions made in the district during his years by Weightman's side. Although Long said he is confident his years in the district will mean for an easier
transition, he is feeling mixed emotions.
"I'm happy and excited about the opportunities, but I'm sad in that I won't be working with Tom everyday," Long said. "He's like a brother to me."
Long pledged to work to keep schools off double sessions and to focus on increased standards and discipline issues. He also said he wants to improve employee morale, particularly in light of another lean budget year.
The last six years of Weightman's tenure have been marked by financial difficulties, capped in September by the resounding defeat of a referendum calling for a higher sales tax to pay for school renovation and construction.
Weightman counts the referendum defeat as his greatest frustration. His time in office also has been shaped by what he termed "explosive growth" and now has more than twice as many students and schools as when he took over.
Still, Weightman managed to keep the district afloat and current.
"He has done an outstanding job of keeping Pasco schools on the cutting edge with what is happening in education," said Bob Judson, president of Pasco-Hernando Community College.
Weightman, who was born in Pennsylvania but raised in Dade City, was a teacher, coach and principal in Pasco before being named acting superintendent in 1973 when Rodney Cox was dying from cancer.
The following year, Weightman ran against Ray Stewart, a popular district administrator, and won.
Those who have worked closely with him say he has overseen the intervening years of growth with patience and compassion.
"He is not real excitable about things," said Mary Giella, who already was in her assistant superintendent spot when Weightman first was elected. "He has a lot of patience. He has a lot of concern about people _ very thoughtful and kind. I think that really set the tone for all of us."
A star football player at Pasco High, Weightman was a senior there in 1953 when Giella was a freshman.
"He's a very unassuming type of fellow who knows what has to be done," she said. "I think his greatest strength is that he allows people who have ability and talent and ideas to come forward and do what they know how to do and he supports them."
But there has been divisiveness. Employees have periodically felt the need to protest small raises, and Weightman's relationship with the union isn't as open as Long's _ a result, perhaps, of their different management styles.
"I hope that there will be a closer and better relationship with the superintendent (now that Long is taking over)," said Liz Geiger, president of the United School Employees of Pasco.
"That's not to say that I have not been treated professionally by Superintendent Weightman," she said, "but John just seems to be more at ease handling labor management problems. He feels comfortable negotiating, coming to some sort of compromise or solution. And he not only feels comfortable with that, but he likes that sort of thing."
Geiger said she hopes "the union has more input into the decisions made in the district" under Long's administration.
Weightman also has served as a mentor to other Florida superintendents and Pasco community leaders. In at least one case, he also paddled a future leader.
County Administrator John Gallagher was a student at Gulf Junior High School when Weightman was an assistant principal. Gallagher was caught smoking in the parking lot and part of his punishment was to submit to the paddle.
Years later, Weightman hired Gallagher to teach math at Gulf.
"He was very supportive of a young teacher and trying to help young teachers keep control of their classrooms," Gallagher said.
Despite their disciplinary past, Gallagher said he learned a lot from Weightman.
"I always looked up to him as a role model," Gallagher said. "Even now."
The school district has grown dramatically since Tom Weightman became superintendent in 1974.
Growth area 1974-75 1996-97
Students 21,023 44,361
Instructional employees 1,016 2,896
Other employees 631 2,210
Total full-time employees 1,747 5,108
Total revenue $26-million $292-million
Number of schools 20 47
Source: Pasco County School District