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‘Super’ Successor Sought for Dearing

June 14, 2008

By Joe Saunders, The Bradenton Herald, Fla.

Jun. 14–MANATEE — A combination of financial savvy, educational understanding and organizational management are the key factors Manatee County school board members are looking for in a new superintendent.

And being “Superman or Superwoman” wouldn’t hurt, either.

“It’s a tough job and you’ve got to have special powers,” said Walter Miller, a school board member for 10 years. “You’re going to have a tough time because these are tough times.”

The school district is looking for a replacement for Superintendent Roger Dearing, who on Thursday was offered the job of executive director of the Florida High School Athletics Association. Dearing, who has been on the FHSAA board of directors for two years, is expected to accept the job pending completion of contract talks.

He has said he plans to stay in the post until a successor is hired.

The school board has scheduled a July 10 public workshop with Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association to set up the process of hiring Dearing’s replacement, something school board member Harry Kinnan hopes to have accomplished by fall, though probably after the school year begins Aug. 15.

‘Challenging times’

Board members interviewed Friday stressed the need for the new superintendent to be committed to educational excellence first, but said the school district’s shaky financial situation — forced to cut its budget by $21 million — makes understanding Florida’s financial system key to the job.

“The focus has got to be on the classroom, but you have to find the money to do it,” Miller said.

Kinnan agreed.

“There is a real need for a new superintendent to understand Florida law and Florida financing,” he said. An inexperienced candidate, he said, would present “a learning curve I’m not sure we need at this time.”

“These are challenging times,” he said.

Pat Barber, president of the Manatee Education Association, the local teachers union that has had a sometimes-contentious relationship with Dearing’s administration, said the new superintendent should be committed to a “collaborative” arrangement with the school district’s employees.

“He or she should have a track record of working well with teachers associations and other unions in a school district,” she said.

While she hasn’t been in contact with her membership since the announcement that Dearing has been chosen for the FHSAA job, she said some members, at least, will welcome the coming change.

“There are some big morale problems in the system,” she said. “A change in leadership could help that.”

To school board member Bob Gause, the ability to run an operation as large large as the school district — including employee relations — will be key to selecting a new superintendent.

“We’re going to want someone who has an understanding of how to run an organization,” he said. “There’s a lot of pieces that go into the district.”

In his 11th year on the board, Kinnan is on his fourth search for a Manatee school superintendent. Citizen participation is vital, he said. It’s participation he’s already getting informally.

“I’ve already had people — and I’m sure the others have — say, ‘You need someone with this, or someone with this,’” he said.

Dearing himself declined to comment Friday on the qualities his successor should have.

“Whoever they get is going to be different from me and have different strengths and weaknesses from me,” he said. “I just hope they get the best person they can.”

‘Time … of the essence’

After the July 10 meeting, a committee of residents representative of Manatee County will be established to vet applicants for the post, weening them to three to five candidates. The finalists will then be interviewed by the board and elements in the community.

No firm timetable has been established, but the circumstances of Dearing’s departure — uncertainty about whether he would be offered the FHSAA hindered beginning the official search for a successor — put some pressure on the district.

“Time is something of the essence,” Kinnan said. “I don’t think anyone wants to get into August and feel we’re not deep in the process.”

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