What is a school board?
A school board is different from a city or county commission in that, unlike these other governmental entities, the school board does not act under a locally adopted charter, but under state law.
One of the most important things a school board does is to hire a superintendent, who administers board policy. Because education laws change with nearly every session of the Florida Legislature, many board policies, rather than being generated locally, are implementations of state statute.
– Eli Witek
Five minutes before the start of a School Board meeting June 18 — where members intended to name an interim superintendent for Volusia County Schools — board members were called away one by one to get the news: One of their top candidates, Pam Stewart, was withdrawing from consideration.
Stewart, who served as commissioner of education for the State of Florida from 2013 until January, withdrew amid concerns about the legality of her hiring.
The Volusia County School Board has been in a hurry over the past 20 days to fill temporarily the position of the top administrator since terminating the contract of the current superintendent, Tom Russell, in a surprise move instigated by freshman Board Member Ruben Colón.
The board had a limited window before the end of the fiscal year June 30, and the beginning of what most of them referred to as “the busiest time of the year” — summer.
Stewart, who retired from the top public education spot in the state just five months ago, must wait six months before she can work in a school district again, according to the regulations of the Florida Retirement System.
Apparently, although such situations have arisen before for school-system employees, they never have for a prospective superintendent.
“She was, as many of you know, recently retired, and while many administrators across the state get rehired through a contracting arrangement, this type of contracting arrangement has never been tested for a superintendent,” Executive Director of the Florida School Boards Association Andrea Messina told the board. “She does not want to put the board in the position of having to test a legal conflicting opinion.”
That cut the three-person pool of top applicants, picked unanimously by the School Board the day before, to two Tims: Tim Huth and Tim Egnor.
Although the field had narrowed, the choice was not any easier for some board members.
“This is a very difficult decision, I think, for all of us, because both candidates are very worthy,” School Board Member Linda Cuthbert said. “It’s not we’re picking one over the other, because both express teamwork and we know that both are dedicated to our county, and will do the utmost they can to support us. It’s not that one is better than the other, it’s that we have to choose.”
“If I had a hat and could pick out a name, I’d be happy with it,” Board Chair Carl Persis said.
Huth, a semi-retired professional with 45 years in the Volusia County school system, was deputy superintendent from 1997 to 2010, and still works as a substitute teacher. Egnor is another longtime educator, with 29 years of experience in Volusia County, and nine years in St. Johns County.
Before discussing the two, Persis warned the board to be clear.
“Don’t just say Tim, because they are both named Tim,” Persis said, before promptly making that exact mistake during his turn discussing the candidates.
But in the end, the vote was clear — Tim Egnor was unanimously chosen to fill the position of superintendent on an interim basis.
The board aims to select a permanent superintendent before Thanksgiving, and that person’s term would begin Jan. 1.
Persis, School Board Attorney Ted Doran, and Egnor met June 19 to negotiate the terms of Egnor’s transition. Egnor will receive the same salary as the previous superintendent.