Schools superintendent applications leave some board members wishing for more

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. -- Fewer than a quarter of the 25 candidates who submitted applications to be Palm Beach County's next schools superintendent meet the preferred qualifications the school board set when it posted the job in October.

The list of applicants has left at least two board members wanting more.

"There are high-quality candidates on that list, but it's not the A-list I was hoping for," board member Monroe Benaim said.

Board member Chuck Shaw had hoped to see more than 25 people apply for the job of running the district, at 174,000 students the nation's 11th largest.

"Honestly, the practical part of that is, that there's no one on the list that meets every one of the qualifications we're all looking for," said Shaw, who agreed the list includes strong candidates but described himself as "not overwhelmed with excitement" at this point.

The board is set to trim the list of candidates, which shrunk to 24 Thursday when one withdrew, to four finalists at its meeting Wednesday. Those four would visit the county late this month and in February, with the board choosing a superintendent by March 1.

Candidates needed to have at least a master's degree or its equivalent, board members stipulated in October when the superintendent position was posted. A doctorate degree was preferred.

Candidates also were told to have at least 10 years of experience in supervising and managing, preferably either at a school district with at least 45,000 students or a corporation with a similar number of employees, the board said.

But most of the candidates who applied by the Jan. 6 deadline did not meet one or more of the preferred guidelines.

For instance, 13 applicants are current or former administrators in school districts with fewer than 25,000 students. They include Harry La Cava, former superintendent of the 17,000-student Indian River County district .

Others appear to lack the "executive administrative experience" for which the board asked. Three had master's degrees but no doctorate. Two others are working on their doctorates, according to their resumes.

"I want you to have had experience as an upper-level administrator in a larger district," said Debra Robinson, the board's chairwoman. She originally wanted applicants to have experience as an upper administrator in a school district of 75,000 students or more.

"My ideal candidate is an educator who has come up through the ranks and is an upper-level administrator in a large, diverse school district," Robinson said.

Failing to meet the preferred qualifications, however, will not automatically bump a candidate from consideration for the job, board members said.

"We weren't particularly interested in seeing someone who had worked in a school district of 1,000 students for 20 years," Shaw said.

But Shaw added that he encouraged the district to make the qualifications "preferred" instead of "required" because board members should have flexibility if there is a candidate they like.

Palm Beach County is one of the largest districts in the country, limiting the pool of candidates with experience in such a large organization, said Bill Montford, chief executive officer of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents.

It's common, Montford said, for a school board "to set a standard and then take a look at the number of candidates you draw and have to change your qualifications."

Shaw said one reason the posting only drew 25 applicants could be because some potential candidates are thinking twice about moving to Florida.

"With the issues that Florida has with education, and the lack of support from the legislature, and the contentious atmosphere we have (in the state), that drives people away," Shaw said.

Montford said Palm Beach County and Florida in general are still attractive to superintendents, but that "being a superintendent is tough. It's a job fewer and fewer people are willing to take on the responsibility of."

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