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Sarasota Thursday, Apr. 2, 2020 5 months ago

School board debates whether superintendent search will be slowed

Some board members say the search should press on while others say coronavirus response should be top priority.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

Although the spread of the coronavirus has changed many things about Sarasota County schools, some are hoping there is one thing it won’t affect: the search for a new superintendent.

The timeline laid out by the board in early March would have a new superintendent selected by June 22. 

However, public forums and citizens advisory committees were a large factor in that timeline. The forums, scheduled in the last two weeks of March, were canceled.

Now some board members say they would prefer to postpone the search to ensure the public gives its input while others hope to press on in the hopes of hiring a new superintendent before the 2020-21 school year.

Eric Robinson

Board Member Eric Robinson said the board should pause the timeline while the district focuses on delivering safe learning environments to students.

“Things like the superintendent search need to be put on pause while we prioritize the operations of the district,” Robinson said. “The health, safety and security of our community, our students and our staff is much more important.”

Additionally, Robinson said he thinks the public should be given ample opportunity to give input. If the timeline were to press on, he said people would lose that chance.

“We can’t repeat the mistakes of the past,” he said. “We have a moral obligation to make sure that the community’s voices are heard during the selection process. If that means we need to wait, that’s what we need to do.”

However, Board Chair Caroline Zucker said that under the circumstances, the board could take the input residents gave through an online survey put out by the district. The survey, which was open from March 11 to April 2, returned more than 1,500 respondents.

“We could use those surveys and compile them and get a really good feel for what the community is looking for,” Zucker said. “Those questions are the same ones we should ask in an actual meeting.”

Zucker said she’d like to wrap up the search by June, so the new superintendent could be on board by the start of the school year.

Currently, the school’s chief financial officer, Mitsi Corcoran, serves as interim superintendent. Her contract provides an annual salary of $207,000 for however long she remains the superintendent.

Zucker also wants to make sure quality candidates can apply before they have to sign contracts for other school systems.

Caroline Zucker

However, Robinson said he didn’t think the district would attract as high quality of candidates during this time because they would be helping steer their current schools through the pandemic.

Florida School Board Association consultant Bill Vogel said the potential exists for the coronavirus to affect the candidates but that it is difficult to say because Sarasota County is such a desirable district.

“Sarasota is a very desirable school district and community to live and work in,” Vogel said. “It’s unprecedented how this whole coronavirus will impact searches.”

Zucker said many steps the board wants to take during the search, such as narrowing the candidates through meetings, could be done virtually.

“There are ways of doing this. You don’t have to stop completely,” she said. “I know it’s a difficult time, and I understand that people want to have input, but they just have to trust the process.”

The board will meet April 7 to discuss if and how to proceed with the next step: going through the feedback and creating a brochure to advertise the position.

However, the situation remains fluid, Vogel said, and if the board decides to proceed for now, it could chose to postpone in the future. FSBA will continue working with the board until a superintendent is chosen, however long it might take.

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