Manatee school panel pulls no punches in superintentent discussion

eearl@bradenton.comFebruary 16, 2013 

MANATEE -- Teamwork, financial prowess, technology skills and a strategic plan are all strengths the Citizens Advisory Group and the Manatee County School Board are looking for in the next superintendent.

The Citizens Advisory Group met Friday night for the last time to assess their impressions of each of the six finalists' strengths and weaknesses. They will present their insight again Wednesday night before the school board casts their votes.

The group expressed their opinions at the meeting on large white pieces of paper plastered around the room. They went meticulously through each of the six finalists based on background information and previous interviews.

"When we look at the school district, we are looking at a business, and this is the largest in the community," said the group's chair, Richard Conard.

The group thought that candidate John Carvelli was engaging and congenial. However, they saw a lack of readiness in him to serve a district of this size.

"He's a great guy, and will do great job, somewhere else," said John Horne, advisory group and Manatee Chamber of Commerce member.

The group said Constance Jones cultivates talent and embraces diversity.

"She was the only one that truly knew the difference between an internal and external auditor and how to use each appropriately," CPA Byron Shinn said.

However, the group has its doubts about her explanation of the financial process as a whole. Debra Woithe, advisory group member and School Advisory Council representative, believed Jones is the candidate most like current

interim superintendent David Gayler, which she described as a positive thing.

The advisory group described Kathryn LeRoy as intense and driven.

While they thought she demonstrated strong management skills, they also felt that she could be potentially polarizing.

LeRoy is one of three finalists for superintendent in Buford, S.C., whose school board members will meet to vote Tuesday night. LeRoy said that she will ask for a 24-hour delay if chosen.

The group spent the least amount of time discussing Pam Stewart. While they recognized her knowledge and experience, they said she was too concerned about being politically correct. They also wondered about her ability to serve long-term based on previous comments Stewart had made.

A strong statement from the group about Rick Mills was that he demonstrated the ability to bring positive change, close the achievement gap, reinstitute fiscal responsibility and elicit performance.

"Of all six candidates, he is a game-changer," said group member Richard Greene.

However, some group members thought that his "chemistry" with members did not match his potential.

"He has a lot to bring to table, but wears it differently than the others," Shinn said.

As Mills is from Minneapolis, some members were worried about a lack of local connections and limited knowledge of the culture of Manatee County.

The Manatee/Sarasota Democratic Black Caucus has endorsed candidate Diana Greene.

Susie Copeland, vice president of the Manatee/Sarasota Democratic Black Caucus and the president of the Manatee County NAACP, said earlier that she thought Greene's interview with the school board Monday was exceptionally thorough.

She also said that it spoke to her that Marion County, where Greene serves as deputy superintendent for curriculum and instruction, closely mirrors Manatee County, yet has fared better.

The advisory group was not completely satisfied with her financial experience; her system was self-described as "archaic." They also thought she was light on details when it came to budgeting.

While the school board values the opinions of the Citizen's Advisory Group, the vote is ultimately the board members' decision.

School board members Barbara Harvey and Julie Aranibar said they feel fully prepared to select the superintendent

"It will be interesting, I can assure you," Harvey said.

For Carpenter, the choice is not yet clear.

"The vote on Wednesday evening will be just the beginning," she said.

The voting will take place 5:45 p.m. Feb. 20 at the school board on Manatee Avenue West and is open to the public.

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