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Politics

Sorry, Charlie: She's not applying

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
Published February 28, 2007


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LAND O'LAKES - Heather Fiorentino's name was among the first to pop up last month when word came that Florida would need a new education commissioner. But the superintendent said Tuesday that she isn't interested in the job.

"I am very happy where I am," Fiorentino told the St. Petersburg Times on Tuesday. "I do not plan on applying for the job. I have a vision here in Pasco that I plan on working forward on."

The Pasco County school superintendent, who once headed the state House Education Committee, was in a small group of rumored candidates. Others included Manatee County superintendent Roger Dearing, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker and state Rep. Joe Pickens of Palatka.

Gov. Charlie Crist reportedly even interviewed Fiorentino more than once about coming back to work in Tallahassee, according to several people who know the superintendent well.

Now that the job description is out, and the State Board of Education is embarking upon its official search, Fiorentino, 49, is among the first to withdraw her name from consideration for the high-profile post, which will pay anywhere from $195,416 to $275,058.

Topping her to-do list are continued implementation of a new teaching model that focuses on best practices and opening five new schools.

With her announcement, Fiorentino joined former Leon County superintendent Bill Montford in bowing out of the race they never formally entered.

Baker also has said he would not pursue the job being vacated by John Winn on Thursday.

On the other side of the equation, state K-12 chancellor Cheri Yecke has announced that she will seek the commissioner's chair.

Yecke, who has led the education departments in Virginia and Minnesota, came to Florida two years ago, abandoning a run for Congress in Minnesota.

"The whole battle about standards and accountability was fought and won here a long time ago," Yecke told Times. "Folks in Florida are moving forward in a very positive way. To me, that is just so refreshing. I would like to stay here."

Fiorentino called her experience on the rumor mill "humbling."

"It really was. To think that people had recognized the job I had done in Tallahassee and that I am doing, it was a great honor," she said.

And she did not reject the idea of going back to the capital if Crist were to ask. But as for applying for commissioner, her decision is made.

School Board Chairwoman Marge Whaley praised Fiorentino for keeping continuity in the growing Pasco district.

"I applaud her commitment to being a good superintendent here," Whaley said, "because we definitely have work to do."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached via e-mail at solochek@sptimes.com or on the phone at 813 909-4614 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505 ext. 4614. For more education news, visit The Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

[Last modified February 28, 2007, 07:18:11]


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