Gayler accepts interim superintendent position in Manatee

MANATEE -- Charlotte County school board Vice Chairman Lee Swift hasn't forgotten the day after Hurricane Charley. Then-Superintendent David Gayler, in the calm, reassuring voice he is known for, promised employees there would not be pay cuts or jobs lost in the aftermath of the storm.

It could have been a lofty, unfulfilled statement, Swift said. But Gayler kept his promise, working with board members to secure national funding that allowed the school to maintain its employees and salaries.

"He said no one would lose a job because of the storm," Swift said. "He delivered that."

Now, the same man has accepted the Manatee school district's offer to serve as interim superintendent until a permanent superintendent can be found. Former superintendent Tim McGonegal resigned Sept. 10 after revealing a $3.5 million budget deficit caused by $8 million in overspending.

Gayler, who also served as assistant superintendent of Manatee County in 2001, will take on the role Oct. 15 under conditions that still must be approved by the school board, Chairman Harry Kinnan said.

Gayler, 59, wants to end his service to the district March 29 and he wants the ability to give 30 days' notice if he decides to leave before that date.

Gayler says he already has some plans for a district that lacks public confidence in the

school administration and has yet to settle contracts with the union.

He hopes to get a list from the school board of priorities and a consensus on what needs to happen first. He wants to help plan next year's budget. He'd like to aid in the negotiation process if contracts are still unsettled with the union by the time he starts his position.

But most importantly, he said Friday, he hopes to establish new methods of communications for a divided board.

Getting six people to work together won't be easy, Gayler said, but it's imperative. Although he doesn't know board members personally, he says he knows the board cares about education. Gayler believes through workshops and training, a more effective communication structure can be established.

"I know how badly a lack of communication affects morale in a district and morale in the community," Gayler said.

Board Chairman Harry Kinnan said Gayler is right to lead the district in a new direction.

"He has the personal qualities to move this district forward, even while he's interim." Kinnan said Friday. "I think he meets the standards that the board had in mind when they selected him as interim superintendent."

Gayler initially expressed interest to Wayne Blanton of the Florida School Boards Association in filling the position. Blanton recommended him to the board as an interim candidate.

Blanton said Gayler would be a more than capable interim.

"He went through some really tough times in Charlotte County when Hurricane Charley came through there," Blanton said. "You can't have more pressure than Gayler had put on him after the hurricane. He is good at dealing with crisis situations."

Gayler said it came down to deciding priorities and then moving on them.

"I'm not sure that we slept for three months after that storm," Gayer said. "The biggest thing I learned is that in order to be successful in anything that you say you are going to do, you have to find ways that you are going to do it."

Retired Manatee schools Superintendent Dan Nolan hired Gayler as his assistant superintendent in 2001. On Friday, Nolan said he wasn't surprised that Gayler would seek out a situation where he could use his ability to negotiate and communicate to help.

"He's open-minded and open to dealing with people." Nolan said. "He is completely adept at creating a positive atmosphere."

Nolan remembers a man who got up early in the morning to ride the bus so that he could get to know school bus drivers, and who calmly navigated collective bargaining during a state budget crisis.

Gayler was the chief negotiator with the Manatee Education Association in 2001, the first year the district and the union utilized a collaborative bargaining method that uses problem-solving strategies to come to agreements.

Manatee Education Association President Pat Barber said Gayler's leadership helped the union and the district come to terms, despite a budget crisis and little money allocated to the district.

"The union bargaining team was very comfortable" working with Gayler, Barber said.

"He built trust with us. Everyone came to the table with the spirit of collaboration."

Gayler will receive $171,000 in salary during his time with the district, the same as McGonegal.

When Gayler begins in October, current interim Bob Gagnon will return to his position as assistant superintendent of teaching and learning.

Gayler hopes that setting a specific end date will speed along the superintendent search. He said it is crucial that the new administrator be part of the decisions needed for the next year.

He also has a 21-month-old daughter he wants to spend time with.

In the meantime, Gayler said, he'll pave the way for the final candidate.

"I'm not saying trust can be restored or upheaval can be reversed. But people can take steps," Gayler said. "That's what I want to see."

Katy Bergen, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.