Five make cut for school superintendent job

The five finalists from 30 applicants for the Hillsborough post include two Hispanics and one African-American.

Published May 11, 2005

TAMPA - Hillsborough County will get a close look at five finalists for superintendent, including two insiders, during interviews and public meetings next week.

Making the cut are:

Hillsborough chief of facilities MaryEllen Elia.

Hillsborough assistant superintendent Michael Grego.

Miami-Dade Schools deputy superintendent Sonia Diaz.

Detroit Public Schools chief executive officer Kenneth Burnley.

New Orleans former superintendent Anthony Amato.

School Board members narrowed the field from 30 applicants, choosing to meet with the candidates who received five or more votes in a straw poll. They said afterward that they were pleased with the diversity of the five, which include two Hispanics and one African-American.

"I think we met our goal," board member Doretha Edgecomb said.

At the same time, Edgecomb and others on the board expressed discontent with the applicant pool provided by Proact Search, a Milwaukee recruiting firm paid about $39,000 to find top executives to replace retiring superintendent Earl Lennard.

Proact indicated that it could unearth stars and persuade them to leave their jobs for Hillsborough, board member Jennifer Faliero said.

"That was not reflected in the list," she said, though acknowledging that the final five looked good on first review. "I expected more."

Board members spent close to four hours reviewing resumes. They voted on 15 applicants, with a majority agreeing to see 10 of those.

After some discussion, the board eliminated those who got fewer than five votes. That dropped local chief academic officer Donnie Evans and retired Navy Rear Adm. Barbara McGann, the only nontraditional applicant presented by Proact.

Edgecomb asked for reconsideration of those two, but each again failed to get five votes.

The board directed its staff to work out an interview schedule for next week. It then briefly discussed salary and benefits, not reaching a range but noting that the package probably will be much more expensive than Lennard's annual pay of about $188,000 plus incentives.

Grego learned he had made the cut when told by the district information officer, as he went to get a soda. He said he was thrilled to be considered, and would remain committed to Hillsborough County regardless of whether he gets the job.

Told by a reporter she was a finalist, Diaz said she was not concerned about the competition with two inside candidates. She said she will make her case and let the board decide.

"I bring a very powerful vision about changing schools and collaborating with parents and other partners," said Diaz, a former superintendent in Bridgeport, Conn., who also has worked in an education think tank.

"I think what I bring is a blend of the theoretical as well as the practical."

She joined the Miami-Dade district last year as part of the turnaround team of new superintendent Rudy Crew, who many consider an education visionary. She said she thought long about applying for a new job so soon afterward, but she wanted a different challenge. Also, Diaz has a daughter living in Tampa.

Elia, Burnley and Amato could not be reached for comment.

Burnley has led the Detroit school district for five years. The city's mayor appointed him after the state placed the district of 141,000 students into receivership. The local board, also appointed, has had no real input.

He has enjoyed the support of political leaders including Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who credited Burnley with making positive strides in the troubled school district, according to the Detroit Free-Press newspaper.

However, not everyone backs the CEO, who also has faced calls to resign amid mass firings and financial woes.

Burnley chose not to renew his contract, which expires at the end of June.

Amato is considered a turnaround specialist, having come into scandals in New Orleans and Hartford, Conn., before that. He also has a reputation as an academic reformer.

But according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper, his political support vanished in April amid what the paper called "chaotic finances." Board members complained that Amato acted unilaterally, the paper reported, made no progress in fixing finances and failed to manage staff effectively.

Supporters, including the Louisiana state education superintendent, told the Times-Picayune that Amato did not bring in qualified staff. He resigned in mid-April.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at 813 269-5304 or solochek@sptimes.com