Step one: Sever ties with Superintendent Todd Bowden. Check.
Step two: Name an acting schools superintendent. Check.
Step three: Name an interim superintendent. Pending.
So far the Sarasota County School Board is getting things right. The members voted unanimously to approve a separation agreement with Bowden, whose support was eroding among board members and had deteriorated among staff, teachers and the community.
Two members thought Bowden had acted appropriately on information his assistant superintendent had sexually harassed a subordinate; two members thought his severance was too generous. But they put their differences aside in the interest of moving forward.
Holding off on naming an interim superintendent until December was smart too, though perhaps a matter of necessity.
Former Superintendent Lori White was willing to serve but wisely said the board would need to be unanimous in asking her to return. It wasn’t, possibly because she is perceived as being too popular with teachers, who are negotiating a new contract.
The other likely candidate is Bill Vogel, a former Seminole County superintendent who also served on an interim basis in Manatee County and has handled union negotiations for the county as a consultant.
He’s been criticized by Barry Dubin, the executive director of Sarasota Classified/Teachers Association, presumably because of his role in negotiations with the teachers in Manatee County, but appears to be in line for the job when the board meets on Dec. 10.
Then it can get down to the business of finding a permanent replacement. Or at least it should, in our opinion.
The union disagrees, however, saying that the search should be postponed until after next year’s election, in which two board members will be chosen. Otherwise, officials say, the current board will be imposing its will on the next one.
It’s a transparent attempt to hold out to see if the person who replaces School Board Chairperson Caroline Zucker, who says she’s not running for reelection, is union friendly. (The other seat is occupied by Eric Robinson, who is running again.)
It’s a bad idea.
It’s going to take six months or so to conduct a search and vet and hire a new superintendent. Even with the School Board races being decided in the August primary, that would still leave the district without a permanent superintendent for about 15 months. That’s unacceptable.
In addition, it would mean either bringing in someone else as the interim superintendent or hiring a replacement, as Vogel has indicated he would serve only through June. This is a time when the district needs more continuity than that.
It would also set a terrible precedent. The business of governmental agencies can’t be put on hold every time someone can point to an election on a distant calendar.
And we have the sneaking suspicion that the union would be far less concerned about the current board not imposing its will on the incoming one if they thought they were at risk of losing a teacher-friendly School Board member instead of gaining one.
A district without a superintendent can be as bad as one with the wrong superintendent. The School Board members need to honor their recent pledge to work together and get the right one hired.