The board will begin its search by hiring a search firm to aid the district.
For most, January is the time for starting New Year’s resolutions and packing up holiday decorations, but for the Sarasota County School Board, it will be a time to start searching.
At its first workshop of the year, Jan. 21, school board members will begin discussions to find a new superintendent.
Mitsi Corcoran, the district’s assistant superintendent and chief financial officer, was named interim superintendent after the previous superintendent Todd Bowden resigned following allegations that he ignored administrative assistant Cheraina Bonner’s complaints of sexually harassment by former Chief Operations Officer Jeff Maultsby.
Bowden stepped down from his role Nov. 19 and was placed on paid administrative leave until Dec. 31. By Jan. 15, the district will have to pay him a lump sum of 20 weeks of severance pay and reimburse $65,000 of his legal fees.
Board members said they’d like to begin the new search by requesting letters of interest from search firms. After firms respond, the board will narrow the responders and have a few present their qualifications during a workshop.
Several board members said they would like to hear from the Florida School Board Association, the organization that helped the district find Bowden, though Board Member Eric Robinson said he had some concerns with that.
“In the interest of cooperation, I would agree to do it,” Robinson said. “But before I say yes, I have a couple questions to ask to ensure some issues that came up last time don’t come up again.”
Specifically, Robinson said that he would like to know more about how FSBA vets certain candidates. When the school district was considering Bowden for hire, Bowden was being investigated for sexual harassment allegations.
Board Member Bridget Ziegler agreed and stated she’d like to hear from different companies to see what qualifications they would prioritize.
“I think that it’s a pretty important process, and I definitely want to make sure it’s open and transparent,” she said.
Board members said they want to hear short presentations from each of the firms and will then select one to begin searching for new candidates. However, they were also divided on the scope of the search.
Board Chair Caroline Zucker said the search should just be Florida-based, so whomever the district hires will have a knowledge of Florida education, but board members Shirley Brown and Ziegler said the search should be nationwide.
“I don’t want to just narrow it to Florida,” Brown said. “There were some people from around the nation that were interested in coming to Florida. I was actually surprised that we were getting interest from out of state, … and several of these sounded very good already.”
Although the board did not nail down a timeline, members said they’d like to include community meetings in the process, so parents and other residents could hear from candidates.
Depending on how long the process takes, there is a possibility that whoever is hired as superintendent would work with a board that is composed of different members than those who voted to hire him or her. Board members Robinson and Zucker are up for reelection in 2020, though Zucker said she will not run again.
Because of this, Zucker suggested candidates running for a school board seat be involved in the selection process. However, Robinson disagreed and stated that if the candidates who were running against one another were allowed to participate, the board would “regret it.”
“My only request is that [the decision] is done at the board, and it’s done amongst the five of us,” Robinson said.
Although the board members disagreed on the scope and timeline of the search, all members said the next administrator needs to be chosen carefully because he or she will need to be able to lead the district out of a time of turmoil.
“It’s time to move on and a time for healing,” Board Member Jane Goodwin said. “Hopefully, we can take the steps necessary to convince the public, the students, administration and teachers that we are looking to heal and move forward.”