School superintendent Wayne Alexander has done a good job during the past year, a majority of School Board members told him Tuesday during his annual evaluation.
But board members warned Alexander that turmoil over his leadership style and questions raised by his job search in New England threaten to overshadow any progress he has made, or hopes to make, before his planned departure in 14 months.
On the same day they handed Alexander his written evaluations, board members also mapped out a plan to find his replacement and agreed to hire an assistant superintendent.
The board ranked the second-year superintendent in eight categories, from student achievement to community relations. The events of recent months figured prominently in board members' assessments.
Board member James Yant was scathing in his criticism, writing on his evaluation form that Alexander's management style "lacks accountability and transparency."
Speaking during Tuesday's workshop, Yant indicated that he continues to put credence behind allegations by the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association that Alexander has created a regime based on favoritism - allegations that ultimately led the union to ask the board to oust Alexander.
"When did it become an acceptable practice to make exceptions for employees based on anything other than performance?" Yant asked. "When we have positions of power over people, we should not take advantage of anyone.
"I think many people in the school district feel intimidated and verbally abused," he said. "That takes away from the entire educational process."
Board member Sandra Nicholson was Alexander's staunchest defender, saying he was following board direction in his aggressive approach to change.
"Overall, I think this district has moved in giant steps from where we were," Nicholson said.
Chairwoman Dianne Bonfield said the question of whether Alexander plans to stay through the end of his contract, despite his desire to join his wife and stepchildren in Connecticut, often felt like "a tidal wave coming through" during the past several months.
Bonfield conceded, though, that Alexander has reduced the "chasm between the haves and the have nots" among district schools.
Board member Pat Fagan agreed that the board, in hiring Alexander, "wanted change, and we got change."
But he added: "I personally believe we got more change than we asked for the first year, and I'm concerned about the changes we're planning on making this coming year."
Alexander should make a special effort to improve employee morale, Fagan said.
"If affects our students on a day-to-day basis," he told Alexander. "They know when a teacher is down."
Alexander rated himself at the top end of the effective range.
In his evaluation statement, which he read Tuesday, Alexander said he has done what the board wanted him to do: "make things happen."
"The board wanted a mover and shaker, someone who would hold employees accountable ... and make decisions knowing that some of those decisions would ruffle the feathers of some people," Alexander said.
"Perhaps I moved too fast for some. Perhaps the personality at times was overwhelming or overbearing. But the results speak for themselves."
He ticked off a list of accomplishments, such as the launch of new programs, from environmental science to performing arts. He noted that he oversaw the creation of a gifted center and pointed out that the district's graduation rates have improved and that the dropout rates have declined.
Board member John Sweeney said the board should make sure Alexander doesn't coast through the next year as "a lame duck superintendent."
"If he starts functioning in that manner, we'll let him know," Sweeney said.
Board members agreed on a time line where, ideally, they would select Alexander's replacement by February, with a salary range of $100,000 to $130,000.
Three board members - Bonfield, Sweeney and Nicholson - agreed that now is the time to hire an assistant superintendent, giving Alexander the green light to post the position, which would pay $96,832 and cost the district about $126,000 with benefits. The board must still approve the move with a formal vote.
In other action, the board rejected Alexander's plan to merge the district's facilities and maintenance departments. Board members said they worried that the school's construction projects would not get enough oversight. The move would have saved about $400,000.
Tony Marrero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1431.