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School board moves forward with hiring interim superintendent

By MEGHAN BRADBURY / news@breezenewspapers.com - | May 4, 2021

After more than three hours and much discussion, the School Board of Lee County began setting parameters to find an interim superintendent before Superintendent Dr. Greg Adkins leaves the position on June 30.

The approved timeline includes the board receiving all applications for the interim superintendent post by May 21, followed by the board coming back together again on May 24 to choose candidates from the submitted application pool who will be interviewed. Between May 25 to May 28 each board member will interview the candidates either in person, or through Zoom. The board as a whole will then interview the candidates on June 7, and June 8 if a second day is needed.

The board agreed that the term of the interim superintendent should be a six-month contract with monthly extensions. There was also a consensus that the pay will be a percentage of the base pay of the current superintendent to be negotiated by the board attorney.

Adkins’ salary is $209,000 a year.

The board also unanimous agreed that Chair Debbie Jordan would reach out to consultants to help with the process and bring back names to the board on May 4 at 9 a.m. for the next meeting. In addition, also by unanimous consensus, Vice Chair Betsy Vaughn was given the responsibility to meet with the district’s Human Resources Department to work on the language for the advertisement for the position. The ad then will be sent to Board Attorney Kathy Dupuy-Bruno and then forwarded to the board for any corrections or omissions before it goes live.

The meeting was broken down into different portions asking the board for consensus before moving onto the next discussion, including: Adkins finishing out his contract; an interim superintendent; whether the interim superintendent could apply; the board controlling the process; and the hiring of a consultant.

ADKINS FINISHING OUT CONTRACT

The first question was whether the board wanted Adkins to stay through June 30 to finish his contract.

The consensus was 5-2 in favor after 55 minutes of discussion that was not always on topic of the specific question.

“It’s a fabulous opportunity for us to make the community proud and have public engagement in the whole process,” Board Member Cathleen O’Daniel Morgan said.

Another board member had a very different outlook of what the meeting should entail.

“This district is in chaos by our own community and stakeholders. Not one of you don’t have a couple of names to get this interim started. I don’t think we need to have a company on how to hire an interim right now. Maybe in the process of a national search. Immediately we need to act. This district is on fire. We have numerous people telling us that. We need to move quickly. A lot of damage can be done by the end of June. Enough damage has been done to this district at this point in time. Let’s not be silly,” Board member Melisa Giovannelli said.

Historical information was provided by Board Member Mary Fischer, as she has been in the district since 1981, 11 years as a board member. She said in her mind’s eye she expects Adkins to stay until June 30, honor his contract and take advantage of the opportunity it presents them to look at the next step.

“First of all, there is no such thing as an interim. When sworn in, they are the superintendent,” she said. “Our second longest-seated superintendent is Adkins. He was hired as an interim and did a very good job and started with some good strategic planning. Because of the fact he had history in the district we wanted to extend his contract. Because he was an interim he was not necessarily unable to apply for the permanent position. The board invited him to extend the contract.”

Fischer went on to say that Dr. James Browder remained in the superintendent position for seven years.

There was one period of nine years when they had seven superintendents, she added.

“Historically, in the district we are not fortunate enough to get someone who came from another place who was comfortable settling in here and invested in this community and didn’t miss his home place,” she said.

INTERIM SUPERINTENDENT

The discussion then changed gears as the board talked about what hiring an interim superintendent would look like while doing a search for a permanent superintendent.

“We need an immediate interim and to form a committee for a national search,” Giovannelli said. “The board makes the selection of who is on the committee and starts that process. We have a lot of business and work to do. Stability is the most important thing right now. I don’t see why we can’t have an interim. It would not be an applicant for a permanent position. The district deserves the best qualified candidate, including any immediate staff that may want to apply. I want everyone to feel that it is going to be a fair process and everyone has an opportunity. I don’t want anyone excluded.”

Although Giovannelli was ready to give names of people to fill the interim position during the April 27 meeting, other board members did not agree.

“We can’t sit here and pick an interim ourselves because the community does not trust us without a process,” Morgan said. “The community needs to see a well-defined methodological process. I’m looking for a six- to nine-month contract stipulating the person as an interim cannot apply for a full-time position.”

Vaughn said she does not want the interim to be board-influenced. In other words, she does not want to have a board member to say “Hey, I think you should be superintendent.” She said Fischer had texted Adkins asking if he wanted to be the interim superintendent.

INTERIM CANNOT APPLY FOR PERMANENT POSITION

The board next took a consensus as to whether the person selected as interim could apply for the permanent position of superintendent, resulting in five no’s, one “can live with it” and one yes.

“When it gets to permanent, we should have a nationwide search. At that time people from this district that would like the position, they would apply, along with whoever else we get from the outside and we have a fair process looking at everything,” Vaughn said.

The board agreed that the person for interim can either be internal or external.

PROCESS CONTROLLED BY BOARD

With the exception of Giovannelli, the board also agreed that the interim should be chosen through an application process.

“The board has to have complete control of it,” Board Member Gwyn Gittens said. “The application and the process, our decision as a board.”

The board agreed that they do not want the process to be internal, but rather controlled by them. In this process, applications would be sent to the school board’s office and then forwarded on to individual board members.

With many board members voicing their opinion of the interim not being able to apply for the permanent position, the conversation went again in a different direction. Questions were asked if it could be stated in the contract that if chosen as an interim, the applicant acknowledges that they cannot then serve as a permanent superintendent.

If the board changes it mind, an amendment can be made, according to Dupuy-Bruno.

Later in the meeting Giovannelli stated that she wanted to pull her consensus vote for the application process.

“I’m not going to support any of this today,” Giovannelli sad. “I don’t agree with this process. I am pulling my vote in regards to applications. I think this process needs to begin immediately.”

HIRING A CONSULTANT

After much discussion the board decided 6-1 to begin looking for a consultant with Giovannelli dissenting. She said, as a board, she did not think they could get to the final conclusion of hiring a interim without help.

“I am not an HR specialist. I need professional guidance. We have agreed to professional guidance. The fact that we are backing off of the consensus we already made is proof positive the need the entire board has of professional guidance. I need someone to come in and help us work through this process, please,” Patricca said.

Morgan agreed the board needs help.

“We are struggling to have this conversation. We need someone to help us. We can ask for applications. We need someone to help us do our rubric, or prioritize what we expect for an interim,” she said.

Gittens, on the other hand, believed that with the district’s process at their fingertips, they did not need a consultant to select an interim superintendent. She said the board was making it way too complicated.

“The process, we have internally on paper is all we need to get started. (Any) questions we should be able to call someone. I don’t see formally going through the process of getting one. I don’t think it is that difficult for an interim. We have a process in place. We are all intelligent people. We just do an interview. I don’t think it is that complicated. Let’s just do it,” Gittens said. We have the superintendent’s job description. We have his evaluation and everything right there that shows us.”

Giovannelli again stated that the board is wasting time, that they are going to upset the community even more if they do not act as a board and do what is right for the district now.

BJM Consulting as well as Florida Gulf Coast University, Lee Health and Chico’s were tendered as consultants for the board to look into.