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Palm Beach County School Board discusses superintendent search

Published: Jul. 21, 2021 at 5:01 AM EDT
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The search for a new superintendent of public schools in Palm Beach County took center stage on Wednesday as school board members met to discuss the future of the tenth-largest school district in America.

Dr. Donald Fennoy announced last week he's resigning effective Oct. 11 after three years on the job. Fennoy said he's leaving to spend more time with his family.

RELATED: Palm Beach County schools superintendent explains 'heavy' decision to resign

The Palm Beach County School Board is holding a workshop on Wednesday afternoon to discuss a variety of important factors related to the search for a new superintendent.

Fennoy is not present at Wednesday's workshop and asked if he could be excused from the discussion, according to School Board Chairman Frank Barbieri. Instead, Deputy Superintendent Edward Tierney is filling in for Fennoy.

Board members are debating when to name an interim superintendent, and whether that person should come from within the School District of Palm Beach County.

"Regardless of how aggressive we want our timeline to be, there's no way we're going to have a permanent person before Dr. Fennoy leaves us," said Vice Chair Karen Brill. "Whoever moves into that position is going to need the assistance of the current superintendent."

Brill, along with board members Erica Whitfield, Barbara McQuinn, Dr. Debra Robinson, Marcia Andrews, and Alexandria Ayala all supported naming a superintendent expeditiously.

"I do agree we need to appoint someone tonight," Brill said. "School is opening up. We need to get on track and move forward with our search."

School Board Chairman Frank Barbieri suggested the possibility of moving Fennoy to a lesser position before his departure and have the interim superintendent take over those responsibilities.

"That should be, at least, in my opinion, a two-week transition period so that the interim can get up to speed on exactly what's happening in the superintendent's office," Barbieri said. "So I suggest that we give them at least two weeks, no matter who it is."

The school board on Wednesday is also discussing a proposed timeline for the superintendent search process.

According to documents from the School District of Palm Beach County, if the board decides to use an external search firm, the goal would be to have a new superintendent in place by January of next year.

"I hope that we're gonna keep this timeline fluid," Brill said. "We should be able to be a little bit more aggressive and hopefully have somebody in place sooner than what the timeline says."

Barbieri suggested there may not be a permanent superintendent in place until the very end of the 2021/22 school year next May.

Board members are also discussing if they should conduct an internal search for a candidate within the School District of Palm Beach County, or launch an external search focusing on the entire state of Florida or even nationwide.

If the board decides to conduct an external search, they may choose to hire an outside company to identify candidates. There are several search firms to select from, including one that specializes in Florida-only educators, and several that look for applicants around the country.

Whitfield expressed her interest in conducting a national search because she said there's currently less trust from the community in the school district.

"Limiting it to people within this building wouldn't garner the trust level that I'm hoping that we could get," Whitfield said.

Robinson suggested waiting until late in the year to make a decision on the search strategy.

"I want us to get this interim in place for the start of the school year, stabilize the district," Robinson said. "And then, in my mind, we can wait until say, November, to start having the conversations about, do we want to search?"

In addition Whitfield and Robinson, board members Brill, Barbieri, and Andrews expressed their desires on Wednesday to conduct a nationwide search for a new superintendent. In doing so, they must consider the salary and qualifications for the job.

RELATED: School Board chairman wants national search for new superintendent

According to school district figures as of July 2021, Fennoy makes an annual salary of $306,167.

In Miami-Dade County, which is the fourth-largest school district in America, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho makes $374,365 a year. In Broward County, the sixth-largest district in the U.S., outgoing Superintendent Robert Runcie has an annual salary of $356,201.

Currently, some of the biggest school districts in the country including Los Angeles, Chicago, Cincinnati, Seattle, New Orleans, San Diego, and Broward County are all looking for superintendents.

"Over the last 16 months, there have been over 100 superintendent searches," said Dr. Gonzalo La Cava, the chief of human resources for the School District of Palm Beach County. "The last time I checked, there's probably 40 searches taking place right now."

Fennoy said that will likely make conducting a national search very difficult. Instead, he's in favor of an internal candidate.

"We have all the tools necessary to be successful," Fennoy told WPTV last week. "All of the teams are running on all cylinders."

INTERVIEW WITH SUPERINTENDENT:

Palm Beach County superintendent interview

RELATED: Timeline of recent Palm Beach County superintendents

Fennoy -- who was hired during an "internal only" search -- signed a five-year contract in 2018 and made history by becoming the first African American superintendent in Palm Beach County history.

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If board members need to vote on any issues related to the new superintendent search, they will do so at a special meeting that's scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

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