Superintendent says she plans to resign

Chambers says the board is not fully behind her


Published: Wednesday, January 21, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 21, 2004 at 1:09 a.m.

Alachua County Schools Superintendent Mary Chambers effectively stepped down as leader of the school district Tuesday night, pending the expiration of her contract in September.

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Alachua County Schools Superintendent Mary Chambers attends the School Board meeting on Tuesday evening.

MICHAEL C. WEIMAR/The Gainesville Sun

Facts

WHAT'S NEXT?

  • The School Board will ask the executive director of the Florida School Boards Association to advise it on a superintendent search.

  • Board members said they would seek to involve the community's parents and residents in the search process.

  • "Effectively, I am resigning at the end of my contract," Chambers told School Board members as explanation for why she asked that an item considering a one-year extension of her contract be removed from the agenda.

    A contract extension had been placed on the meeting agenda for the second time since October, when the board voted 3-2 to delay the vote on a contract extension until each board member completed a performance evaluation of Chambers.

    Explaining why she asked that the vote for a contract extension be removed, Chambers said she had "accepted" that her time as the district's leader would end.

    Chambers said she would "work it out with the board" concerning the exact date of her exit and would "work for the most smooth transition possible."

    "The board deserves to have their person that they can be squarely behind, 5-0," she said after the meeting.

    Judging by the annual performance evaluations for 2003, Chambers did not have the support of three board members - Ginger Childs, Wes Eubank and Barbara Sharpe.

    Though board members generally rated Chambers as "effective" across many of the six performance categories, Childs, Eubank and Sharpe graded her as "needs attention" in several of the measures.

    School Board members said Tuesday they would solicit the help of the Florida School Boards Association to direct them in beginning a search at their next meeting.

    Wayne Blanton, executive director of the association, told board members last year that the best time to begin a search for a new superintendent is in January, so that a new leader is in place by the time school starts in the fall.

    "I think we need to get started, but I just don't want us to panic," because the board has the option to appoint an interim superintendent, Sharpe told board members.

    Eubank said he looked forward to a superintendent search process where the community's parents and residents play a large role.

    He said the community did not have significant input when Chambers was appointed because she "took over in what was certainly one of the dark periods in this district."

    Eubank was referring to how Chambers replaced former Superintendent Lawrence Marazza in 2000, who resigned for $50,000 and an agreement not to sue the School Board.

    Board members put Marazza on administrative leave in August 2000, following the results of an investigation into sexual harassment claims against him.

    Chambers, 46, previously worked as assistant superintendent of business and finance, and she was appointed superintendent in October 2000.

    Chambers' departure will complete the process that seemed to begin when three new School Board members were elected in November 2002.

    In March 2003, the three newly elected board members, Childs, Eubank and Tina Turner-Pinkoson, declined to extend her contract past September 2004. They cited a need to evaluate her performance across a full year.

    During last year's school attendance rezoning process, she gained the support of Turner-Pinkoson but lost the support of Sharpe, who criticized the district's adoption of a "neighborhood-schools" model and the decision to reassign students out of Prairie View Elementary School.

    Tuesday, Turner-Pinkoson was the sole board member who sounded a note of discord over Chambers' departure.

    "I think we treated her unfairly," said Turner-Pinkoson, who spoke at the meeting over a phone line. She recently married County Commissioner Lee Pinkoson and was on her honeymoon Tuesday.

    "I am embarrassed to be a part of this," she said.

    After the meeting, Turner-Pinkoson said she was saddened that Chambers "was forced to resign" because it was apparent from the evaluations that three board members would not vote to extend her contract and would not give her a chance to improve in the areas they cited as lacking.

    "It was obvious it was going to be a 3-2 vote," she said.

    Chambers earns $131,040 yearly and receives a monthly supplement of $300 for in-county travel expenses.

    Tuesday night, Chambers would not reveal what her plans for the future were.

    Last week, Chambers told The Sun, "There are not any (Florida superintendent) jobs on the horizon that I would be interested in."

    In the other major events of Tuesday night's School Board meeting, the board informally agreed to have a special workshop to further discuss the future of Prairie View Elementary.

    More than a dozen residents addressed School Board members to implore them to keep the school open as a traditional elementary school rather than convert it into an early education center, as is tentatively planned.

    Douane D. James can be reached at 374-5087 or jamesd@gvillesun.com.

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