The county will go national in its hunt for a new superintendent.
By THOMAS C. TOBIN
Published June 18, 2003
LARGO - The Pinellas School Board decided Tuesday night to cast the broadest possible net as it looks for a new superintendent, voting unanimously to conduct a national search.
After discussions spanning months, the once-divided board agreed in 25 minutes to scour the country for a successor to superintendent Howard Hinesley, who retires late next year.
The show of unity was a must, they said, if Pinellas is to attract good candidates.
Consultants who specialize in superintendent searches report a shortage of blue-ribbon candidates across the country, with many top administrators shying away from increasingly difficult jobs in large urban districts.
Pinellas, the nation's 22nd largest district, is facing a complex school choice plan and a range of vexing problems, such as budget shortfalls and strict accountability measures.
"I support not only a national search but a wide and vast national search," said Mary Russell, one of three School Board members forced to abandon a move to hire deputy superintendent John A. Stewart.
Stewart, a 59-year-old veteran educator, removed himself from contention for the job last week when it became clear going into Tuesday's meeting that the board was split on appointing him. Three of seven board members favored a national search and one was undecided.
In steering the board away from a potentially corrosive debate, "he really proved to the community what kind of person he is," Russell said.
Board member Jane Gallucci, who had spearheaded the push to hire Stewart, said he placed the needs of students ahead of his own career and did "a very courageous thing."
Also, Gallucci and board member Nancy Bostock warned the board and the public about the cost of the search and the new superintendent's salary.
Gallucci said much smaller school districts in Texas and Georgia are hiring superintendents for $200,000-plus a year. Pinellas pays Hinesley about $170,000 a year plus benefits.
Bostock noted that the board was sharply criticized for increasing Hinesley's salary and benefits recently.
"I have very serious concerns about the cost of a national search," she said, citing today's superintendent salaries. "I am very, very concerned about our resolve from tonight until that contract is signed."
Gallucci said $200,000 for a large district superintendent was "a pittance" in the current market.
"The community needs to step up to the plate and say that's what you're going to pay," she said. "Otherwise, you're not going to get the person you want."
Board chairwoman Linda Lerner, who has pushed for a national search for months, said one of Hinesley's benefits is a whole life insurance policy that costs the district about $62,000 a year. That could be used to sweeten the pot for his replacement, she said.
But Gallucci argued: "You're not going to attract somebody without extra benefits also."
Board member Mary Brown said the salary and search costs are not too much to pay in a district with a $1.2-billion budget.
The cost of hiring a search firm and other expenses is estimated at between $35,000 and $70,000.
The board will discuss the details of its search at its July 28 workshop.
The 7-0 decision came after a short public hearing in which 10 speakers also sent a clear message to the board: Search far and wide for the man or woman who will bring new ideas to Pinellas.
Most of the speakers were members of St. Petersburg's African American community who have been pressing in recent months for a candidate who will address the "achievement gap" between black and white students, find a solution to the sagging graduation rate among black males and hire more minority teachers and administrators.
"Too many of our children are not graduating. Too many of our children are on the streets and they are becoming part of the problem because they are not educated," said one of the speakers, the Rev. Louis Murphy.
Michelle Dennard, president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, said the union supported a national search.
The shortage of good candidates may be overblown, according Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association, which conducts superintendent searches.
Blanton said he recently conducted searches in St. Johns, Seminole and Manatee counties in Florida.
"I got good numbers and good quality in all of those," he said.