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Stewart could remain as Pinellas school chief through 2012-13 school year

Published Jan. 11, 2012

John Stewart could stick around as Pinellas County school superintendent through the end of the 2012-13 school year.

School Board members Tuesday said they want to discuss negotiating a contract with Stewart that would keep him in the 101,000-student district until July 2013.

Originally hired as an interim superintendent replacing fired chief Julie Janssen, Stewart has continually impressed his new bosses with his get-it-done approach since assuming the job in August.

Though Stewart told the board as recently as October that he had no interest in staying beyond December 2012, he wrote in an email to them last week that he's changed his mind. He told the Tampa Bay Times Tuesday that he simply wants to finish some of the work he's started.

"I did a lot of reflection over the winter break," he said. "I'd like to see some of these seeds take root."

Board member Carol Cook requested that the topic be placed on the School Board's February workshop agenda. But every board member has expressed great support for Stewart since he took the job.

"He was brought in kind of as a stop-gap measure — someone who knew the district, someone who knew what was going on and could keep up moving forward while we made our decisions," Cook said. "When he got here, we found out he had more to offer and more to give us than just that stop-gap person."

If board members agree they want to enter negotiations with Stewart, they could revisit the his salary as well as any benefits he receives.

Under his current contract, Stewart, 68, makes $12,000 a month or $144,000 a year. Janssen made $203,000 a year before she was terminated.

Stewart came to the district after his 2009 retirement as executive director the Florida High School Athletic Association. He led the Polk County school district for 13 years until 1996 and later spent three years working as a deputy superintendent in Pinellas under Howard Hinesley.

Should the board agree to keep him until July 2013, it allows them to hire a new leader in time for the start of a new school year.

In other board business:

• Members voted unanimously to keep school start times the same in 2012-13, despite objections from parents at Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle School, who want their kids to start class earlier than 9:30 a.m., which is when other middle schools are set to begin. Administrators assured parents, however, that they are continuing to look at options that might include an earlier start-time for the school.

• After advertising for an independent performance auditor willing to look at the district's administrative expenses, school officials determined the two bids that came back did not meet the requirements. For now, a group from the Florida Association of District School Superintendents is conducting an audit of the district. After that is complete, board members will decide whether they still want to advertise for an auditor.

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or rcatalanello@tampabay.com.

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