Hillsborough school board hires superintendent search firm

The district will replicate an existing contract with Marion County, to save time.
Hillsborough County School Board member Cindy Stuart
Hillsborough County School Board member Cindy Stuart
Published July 30, 2019|Updated July 30, 2019

The Hillsborough County school Board will hire Ray and Associates to search for a new superintendent.

The measure passed a board vote on Tuesday over the opposition of member Cindy Stuart, who wanted to do a request for proposals to hire another firm.

Others on the board were adamant about moving quickly, which they can do with the Iowa-based Ray and Associates. That’s because the contract is a “piggyback” of a similar agreement with the Marion County School District, which also needs a new leader.

A piggyback contract saves the time needed to hire a vendor from scratch. Superintendent Jeff Eakins plans to retire on June 30, and the board wants to choose a new leader by the first part of the calendar year.

“The calendar is critical, and the stability of our school system is so important,” said member Lynn Gray.

Stacy Hahn agreed. “Timelines are funny. They move,” she said. “You may think you have all the time in the world." But the unexpected can happen, she said, and "I want there to be a planning time and a good transition plan put into place.”

Stuart said she had hoped to enlist the Florida School Boards Association, which also performs searches. But, she said, they are too busy with other searches. She had hoped the board would have several piggyback arrangements from which to choose, but the district’s business office found only one, the Marion contract.

“We should have more options,” she said. “Hiring a new superintendent is the single most important decision that this board and this district will make in probably two decades.”

Stuart also rejected the idea that the board is on a deadline. “I don’t want to see us so tied to a timeline that we are rushing to decide which firm we use.” If necessary, she said, the board can appoint an interim superintendent or “talking about extension of a contract,” clearly referring to Eakins'.

Chairwoman Tamara Shamburger cautioned against thinking there is “some unicorn of a superintendent sitting out there, waiting for Hillsborough to corral him in."

She noted that Chief of Schools Harrison Peters has been a finalist for several posts in districts around the nation. “Maybe we already have the best,” she said.

In the end, the board approved the Ray contract unanimously. It calls for a three month search process for the price of $45,000.