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7 still in hunt for state schools chief
The education commissioner field is narrowed. Interviews start Sept. 17.
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
Published August 15, 2007
Retired Hillsborough schools superintendent Earl Lennard sat in the back of the meeting room, watching the decision unfold.
Former state K-12 chancellor Jim Warford, just back from vacation, tuned in over the Internet. And William Moloney, recently retired Colorado education commissioner, worked in his office, waiting for a call with the results.
In less than 30 minutes Tuesday in Tallahassee, the State Board of Education winnowed a field of 32 candidates for education commissioner to seven, including Lennard, Warford and Moloney. Also making the cut were current state K-12 chancellor Cheri Yecke, New York state regional superintendent Joseph Marinelli, College Board senior vice president Eric Smith, and William Harner, deputy to the chief executive of Philadelphia public schools.
But perhaps the biggest discussion of the day was about who not to include.
A handful of candidates submitted their applications after the July 23 deadline, which already had been extended 10 days.
One of them was former Leon County school superintendent Bill Montford, who gained attention earlier this year as a likely replacement for retiring commissioner John Winn, until Montford publicly announced he wasn't interested.
Board member Akshay Desai, a St. Petersburg businessman and Charlie Crist appointee, urged consideration of latecomers.
"Our objective is to find a highly qualified individual," Desai said. "I would not want to preclude them from being under consideration."
Desai won support from board members Roberto Martinez and Kathleen Shanahan, both of whom served on Crist's transition team. But he couldn't convince the others, and a motion to accept the late applicants failed 4-3.
"If we cannot find the candidate in the first seven people that we have researched carefully, we may need to do it all again, and those four people can apply," board member Donna Callaway said.
The board unanimously approved the list of seven finalists recommended by search firm Proact Search Inc. It scheduled interviews for Sept. 17-18.
Lennard, who retired in 2005, was "elated" to be in the hunt. He declined to discuss his positions on issues, saying he would answer the board's questions when the time arises.
Warford, perhaps the most visible critic of the state's accountability efforts lately, said he doesn't worry about facing a board that might not like what he has had to say about the state's school grading system and the way it uses FCAT results.
One of the criteria the State Board set forth was that the next commissioner "understands and appreciates Florida's institutions, culture and political and educational leadership."
But Moloney, who has never worked in Florida, said he didn't expect candidates with state ties to necessarily have a leg up.
"I am struck by the similarity in challenges the states have in building a system of accountability," he said.
Times staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614.