Pinellas County school superintendent Mike Grego says he hasn't thought about applying for the top education job in neighboring Hillsborough County when it comes open in a year.
Not yet, anyway.
"I have to be honest that I haven't given it any serious thought as I remain fully committed to Pinellas," Grego told the Tampa Bay Times Tuesday.
But he added: "At the appropriate time, I will give it thought."
School officials in both counties say they have no knowledge about Grego's plans, though they have heard rumors. His contract with Pinellas expires in 2024. Hillsborough superintendent Jeff Eakins is set to retire next June.
This week is the first time Grego, 62, has shed any light at all on where he stands.
When Eakins announced the news June 10, Grego declined to be interviewed and instead released a statement saying "it would not be respectful … to speculate on who will succeed him."
His comment now, though, leaves room for that.
Within hours of Eakins' announcement last month, Pinellas School Board Chairwoman Rene Flowers called to ask Grego flat-out whether he plans to leave. He said no, she said.
But Grego's response to the Times this week makes her wonder if his mind might change.
"That sounds like somebody that's giving it more thought than what they say," Flowers said. "In other words, (he doesn't) want to make a decision or statement while (Eakins) is still in his job."
Grego isn't one to speak without thinking, she added, so his words carry a lot of meaning. He has "an inquisitive mind, an inquiring mind, a political mind," she said.
Pinellas School Board member Carol Cook said Hillsborough school officials have joked with her, saying: "We're going to go after your superintendent."
"They were probably halfway serious," Cook said. "The reality is, I still don't believe that in any way shape or form he is going to apply."
Grego has accomplished much in Pinellas since taking the superintendent's job in 2012 , she said, as made evident by the school grades recently released by the Department of Education. The district had only one F-rated school, and that's because of Grego's leadership, Cook said.
"His goal all along is to have no D or F school," she said. "We're on the way to do it. I can't see him walking out and saying nevermind."
Cook did say, however, that she can see why people are speculating that Grego might want Hillsborough job. He started his career in that district and even once applied for the superintendent's job in 2005. He lost to MaryEllen Elia, whose name has also come up in conversations about who will replace Eakins.
Pinellas board member Eileen Long agreed with Cook, saying Grego is finally "seeing his vision coming through" in Pinellas. She has "no indication" he plans to leave.
She recalled her phone call to the superintendent when school grades came out last week. He had excitement and a sense of pride in his voice, she said, and that's a lot to leave behind.
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"I feel a real, strong commitment by him to our district," Cook said. "I have not seen him sway any way, at any point from Pinellas County."
Board member Bill Dudley, too, said he's confident Grego will stay put. If he does leave, then Pinellas will make adjustments to "move on to the next plan," he said. No other Pinellas School Board members returned calls for comment.
As Pinellas superintendent, Grego makes a base salary of $252,000, plus other allowances and benefits. Eakins' base salary is $225,000, but Hillsborough board members have said in recent weeks that his successor's pay will be negotiable.
To leave his job in Pinellas before 2024, Grego would have to provide at least 30 days notice in writing.
In Hillsborough, which has more than twice the enrollment Pinellas has, school officials say they have heard talk about Grego being a good fit. But none of the rumors about him applying "have any meat" on them, according to School Board member Lynn Gray.
"I would probably know … because I have some sources who would be able to share that with me," she said. "If I'm telling you I haven't heard anything, it's probably true that there's nothing there."
Both Gray and Vice Chairwoman Melissa Snively said it makes sense that Grego's name is popping up in conversations about who will take Eakins' place. He is nearby, successful and likely knows Florida education law better than applicants the district might find in its planned national search.
"It's natural for him to consider us, and it's natural for us to consider him," Snively said. "I will be very curious to see whether he will throw his hat in the ring."
Unlike all the other school officials, Hillsborough Chairwoman Tamara Shamburger said she hasn't heard any public speculation about Grego at all.
"I have heard nothing about Dr. Grego or any potential applicant," she said. "We're really focused on getting the process done rather than speculating who it might be."
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated what is required of Pinellas County schools superintendent Mike Grego to end his contract early.
Contact Megan Reeves at email@example.com. Follow @mareevs.