Former school leader to mediate

Feuding Pinellas officials choose Earl Lennard to resolve their conflict.

By Thomas C. Tobin, Times Staff Writer
Published March 1, 2008

Earl Lennard, the former Hillsborough school superintendent, will mediate an ongoing conflict between two of Pinellas County's top education officials.

The dispute between Pinellas superintendent Clayton Wilcox and School Board attorney Jim Robinson came to light recently in an e-mail exchange that Robinson made public. The School Board this week directed the two men to find a facilitator to work out their differences at no cost to the district.

"Pinellas County's a good school district, and I'm very pleased and happy that I would be considered, and I'm very pleased that I could be of help," Lennard said late Friday. "The attorney and the superintendent are not only important, they're crucial in the smooth operations of the school district."

Lennard led Hillsborough schools for nine years as superintendent, but his career spanned more than 40 years. He worked as a teacher and administrator. He shepherded the district through record enrollment growth, the end of court-ordered desegregation and the early years of Florida's high-stakes accountability movement. He retired in 2005.

Last year, he made an unsuccessful bid to become the state's new education commissioner.

His name was among five suggested by Laurie Dart, the district's staff attorney. Robinson narrowed the list and allowed Wilcox to make the final pick.

Lennard said he has never worked formally as a mediator but mediated conflicts among employees and community groups as superintendent.

Robinson called Lennard "a man of distinction and considerable experience, and I'm certain he will bring that experience to the table." He added, "His knowledge of the role of the superintendent and school board attorney I think will be invaluable to the process."

Lennard said he knows Wilcox as a colleague but not socially. He does not know Robinson.

"We'll draw on the strengths of both of them," Lennard said.