MANATEE COUNTY — Dr. Wayne Blanton drifted from his center podium, inching close to the speaker, Interim Superintendent David Gayler, and nodded his head in approval, as if to purposely show his attentiveness.
When School Board member Robert Gause and School Board attorney John Bowen carried on a side conversation as Gayler spoke, School Board member Julie Aranibar abruptly called the duo out. Fellow board member Karen Carpenter half-jokingly yelped, “Off with your heads!”
“That was distracting and rude,” said Carpenter, vice chair of the School Board. “We need to have proper manners. We need to focus.”
The urgency of the decision facing the Manatee County School Board played out in an Oct. 22 workshop, in which Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association, recommended a firm timeline for its superintendent search.
The board approved a tentative March 29 start date for the future superintendent; imposed a Jan. 9 deadline for applications; and ordered a Dec. 5 first Citizen Advisory Committee meeting.
Blanton also helped the board settle on a salary range for the future superintendent, between $160,000 and $195,000 — the same figures as the board’s last search in 2008, but less than the highest paid in the state (Miami-Dade’s Alberto Carvalho, $295,000).
As School Board members Gause and Aranibar debated the merits of experience versus effectiveness in finding a new leader, Blanton repeatedly referred to education as “big business,” emphasizing communication and transparency.
He knows the job calls for the ability to balance a $3.4 million deficit, as well as the need to settle and inspire a board and public surprised by former Superintendent Tim McGonegal’s resignation.
“I don’t think that the budget problems will keep people from applying,” said Blanton, who already has conducted phone conversations with interested parties and expects 40 applicants for the job. “You have candidates who love going into a crisis situation. I’m hoping that some of those people get in the hunt.”
The thorough search begins when the board finalizes the job application.
Then, the board will send out more detailed brochures across the country before naming a Citizens Advisory Committee.
Each board member appoints four people to the committee, which should represent wide-ranging groups. Blanton mentioned the Manatee Chamber of Commerce and NAACP.
After the committee meets for the first time in December, it will recommend its top-five candidates to Blanton Jan. 29; he will create a list of finalists.
All of the decision-makers will commune Jan. 30, at which time the board will offer its top-five candidates and accept, reject or amend the recommendations of the others.
As Blanton laid out the search process, board member Barbara Harvey expressed concern about how much interaction Gayler, whose last day is March 29, would have with the winning candidate.
Gayler, former Charlotte County Schools superintendent and 35-year public-education veteran, vowed to work past his official end date to establish a rapport with his replacement.
With the school district hoping to restore a sullied reputation while dealing with budget cuts from the Florida Legislature, Blanton warned the board: “Don’t lose your best candidate to a timeline. This is an important decision. This is our decision.”
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