tampabay.com

New school attorney is well traveled

A lawyer with the district in Gainesville receives board approval, despite an application snag. He has had five jobs since 1999.

By THOMAS C. TOBIN
Published September 14, 2005


LARGO - The Pinellas School Board on Tuesday chose James A. Robinson to be its new attorney, replacing John W. Bowen, who left the district this summer.

Robinson has been staff attorney for the Alachua County school district in Gainesville since April 2003.

Before that, he was the school board attorney in Martin County and had held several high-profile posts in state government. Throughout much of the 1990s, he served as senior attorney for the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

While in state government, Robinson served as general counsel for the Florida Department of Education.

He also worked for the state Department of Community Affairs, serving stints as assistant secretary and general counsel.

The school board voted 5-2 in favor of hiring Robinson, clearing the way for contract negotiations.

The advertised salary range for the job is between $145,000 and $175,000.

Bowen earned nearly $156,000 when he left in July to be the school board attorney in Manatee County.

School board attorneys oversee litigation involving districts and advise boards on all legal matters. While serving in the post from 1995 to 2005, Bowen played a key role, becoming one of the chief architects of a federal court settlement with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund involving racially integrated schools. The settlement resulted in the school choice plan.

If salary negotiations are successful and he is hired, Robinson would help guide the board through the next phase of the choice plan.

The district, starting in 2007, will end the longtime practice of assigning students to schools based on their race.

Robinson was one of seven candidates, most of them from Florida, interviewed by the board in recent weeks.

Board members Mary Russell and Janet Clark voted against his selection Tuesday, saying they were not comfortable with the hiring process.

The process hit a snag when Robinson's application never made it to the board office. But the board later received documentation that his package had made it to the Largo post office. The board allowed Robinson to resubmit his application after the deadline.

Noting that his original application has yet to turn up, Clark and Russell have questioned whether it was fair to the other six candidates to consider Robinson for the post. They also expressed concern that he had held five jobs since June 1999.

But other board members said they were convinced Robinson made a good faith effort to get his application in on time.

They argued that some of his jobs were in Tallahassee, where frequent job changes are not uncommon. They also said they were comfortable with Robinson's experience on education issues.