Only internal candidates to be considered in PBC schools chief search

5:19 p.m Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018 Local
Superintendent Robert Avossa announced last week that he would resign in June to work at a publishing house in Palm Beach Gardens. (Andres Leiva / The Palm Beach Post)

In the search for the Palm Beach County public school system’s next leader, only internal candidates need apply.

By a unanimous vote, school board members decided Wednesday that the best way to ensure continuity after Superintendent Robert Avossa’s surprise resignation announcement last week is to consider only members of his administration to replace him.

And board members decided the search for a new leader should move quickly, saying they hope to name a new superintendent next month.

Under the plan approved Wednesday, all school district officials interested in being considered for the top job must submit applications by 5 p.m. Friday.

Board members said they plan to review the applications next week and create a short list of finalists at a public meeting next Wednesday.

Among the administrators said to be potential applicants are Deputy Superintendent David Christiansen; Chief Operating Officer Donald Fennoy; Chief Academic Officer Keith Oswald; Assistant Superintendent of Choice and Innovation Pete Licata; and Regional Superintendent Frank Rodriguez.

The board members’ deliberations – their first public discussions since Avossa announced last week that he would step down in June – reflected board members’ hope to keep the county’s schools on the same course despite the unexpected leadership change. Avossa has said he intends to step down in June to take a job with a Palm Beach Gardens publishing company.

“We are in a very different place from where we were when Dr. Avossa was hired,” school board member Karen Brill said.

Board members took turns declaring their high satisfaction with Avossa’s performance and his plans for changes within the school district, including a strategic plan that focused the schools’ efforts on improving key student-performance statistics such as graduation rates and reading comprehension levels.

For that reason, they said, the best path forward is to appoint someone from Avossa’s staff who is familiar with the district and administrators’ plans.

“I’m looking for someone who is committed to Palm Beach County and committed to this strategic plan,” board member Marcia Andrews said.

The question of whether the school board would focus on internal candidates or look outside for candidates was far from settled a week ago. Then, Brill said she was nervous about considering only internal candidates with no prior superintendent experience.

But Avossa and several organizations – including a coalition of business leaders and the teachers union – have called for the board to only consider internal candidates, and Brill said Wednesday she had come to agree.

Avossa “has cultivated great leaders,” she said Wednesday, adding that an outsider “would likely unravel or undo the work that has been accomplished.”

Board members set the pay range for the new superintendent at between $250,000 and $300,000, reasoning that no candidate would demand a salary as high as Avossa’s since none has prior experience as a superintendent. Avossa was hired in 2015 at a $325,000 base salary, and his pay rose recently to $334,000

Board members decided that the next superintendent should be signed to a five-year contract. Even though they conceded that the length of the contract is mostly symbolic, they said it would be important to signal to county residents that they hope the next superintendent will stay in office for at least that long.

“We haven’t had anyone here for five years in a long time,” Andrews said.