Mannix About Manatee: School superintendent job not for fainthearted

September 9, 2012 

Who would want this job?

That's the question which keeps coming to mind after Tim McGonegal announced Wednesday he's retiring in Febuary as Manatee County's school superintendent.

After nearly four years on the firing line, McGonegal is 54 but looks more like 64.

A tough gig, being our school superintendent.

It's interesting that Wayne Blanton, the Florida School Boards Association executive director, anticipates 35 to 45 quality applicants for the job if a national search is held.

Being a glutton for punishment better be one of their bona fides.

Not to mention having skin as thick as a gator's.

McGonegal's eventual successor will be facing some rugged terrain upon their arrival.

To wit:

n Another bitter budget battle, exacerbated by Friday's revelation of a $3.4 million deficit in the 2012-13 school budget's general fund. Oops!

n More rancorous negotiations with the teachers union.

n A discordant school board.

n A deep distrust between school teachers and the suits on the fifth floor of the administration building.

n Student test scores ranked 47th in the state.

It's not all bad, though.

Manatee's got the No. 1 high school football team in the nation.

Yes, whoever wins the distinction of being our next school superintendent has their work cut out for them.

To put it mildly.

All they have to be is a proven consensus builder, an accomplished academic, a financial wiz and an effective buffer against the vagaries of those morons in Tallahassee.

Hmmm.

Maybe that person ought to be governor, not school superintendent.

The wild card in the search for McGonegal's successor is the school board and whether they can agree -- for a change -- on whether to look nationwide, statewide or right here at home.

One name I keep hearing is Bob Gagnon, who won hearts and minds during his tenure as Manatee High principal and is now assistant superintendent for curriculum.

Perhaps he's got the chops for the job, but he's still new to the game.

Politically, it's wait and see.

So much depends on the outcome of the Nov. 6 election runoff for the District 2 seat long held by Harry Kinnan, who is stepping down.

If attorney David Miner wins, it would likely align him with Julie Aranibar and Karen Carpenter,

first-time school board members who have frequently challenged the status quo.

If Lakewood Ranch High School teacher Robert Moates wins, it wouldn't necessarily align him with incumbents Bob Gause and Barbara Harvey, but it would give the board a real voice from the classroom.

Kinnan has invited both to observe the search process, which is good.

But the search cannot begin in earnest until Miner or Moates are officially on the board.

They must be an active participant in the selection, because they -- not Kinnan -- will be choosing and working with the next superintendent.

And good luck to whoever that is.

Mannix About Manatee, by columnist Vin Mannix, is about people and issues in Manatee County. Call Vin at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix.

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