Board weighs task of finding next schools chief

Published: Thursday, January 22, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 22, 2004 at 12:27 a.m.


FYI: Chambers timeline

Mary Chambers as Alachua County schools superintendent

  • August 2000 - Named interim superintendent

  • October 2000 - Appointed superintendent, with three-year contract

  • February 2002 - Applies for the superintendent's job in two Florida school districts - Collier County and Charlotte County

  • June 2002 - Declines contract offer by the Collier County School Board

  • March 2003 - Contract extended through September 2004

  • September 2003 - Applies for superintendent's job in Sarasota County

  • January 2004 - In lieu of a vote for a contract extension past September, decides to "effectively resign"

  • The Alachua County School Board is looking ahead to the search to replace outgoing Superintendent Mary Chambers, board members said Wednesday.
    The new superintendent could be in place before school lets out in early June, according to the consultant who will assist the district in its upcoming superintendent search.
    Chambers announced at Tuesday night's board meeting that she would not seek a contract extension and had accepted that her time as the district's leader would end, pending the expiration of her contract on Sept. 30.
    Following Chambers' decision, School Board members agreed they would seek guidance on the search process, with an eye toward choosing a new superintendent before the start of school in the fall.
    "It may be unrealistic, but I would love to have the selection made by May," board member Wes Eubank said.
    What is realistic is a four- to six-month time period for a nationwide superintendent search, said Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association.
    Blanton is expected to speak before the School Board on Feb. 3.
    He will direct the board to determine its basic guidelines and a search timeline, which are necessary before the board can advertise the opening in national and statewide publications.
    Board members agreed the pay for the new superintendent likely will increase from the base annual pay of $131,040 Chambers earns.
    "I'd be surprised if you could get someone to come here for less," board member Jeannine Cawthon said.
    Blanton predicted the district would get an "excellent" pool of applicants.
    Recently, Blanton consulted on Volusia County's superintendent search, which was completed in November.
    That School Board appointed a "citizens committee" to help review applications and narrow the candidates based on the needs of the community.
    Once narrowed to the top five hopefuls, the Volusia School Board members interviewed them and selected their top choice, he said.
    "The chemistry has to be right between (the candidate), the community and the board once you get to the top five," Blanton said.
    Blanton estimated the cost of the search at $25,000, which pays for travel, advertising and consultant fees.
    Chambers was not available for comment to The Sun about her future plans Wednesday.
    Though her contract runs through Sept. 30, she is free to leave at any point.
    Board members said they hoped Chambers will remain as leader of the district long enough to have a transition to the new leader.
    "I think she'll continue to do her job, I don't think she's going to be a lame duck," Cawthon said.
    But Eubank said he would understand if she wanted to leave before September or before the board selects a new schools chief.
    "If I were in her shoes, I would be looking at other career possibilities," he said.
    Meanwhile, top administrators say the district will continue to run as normal.
    "When the superintendent resigns, it's always going to have an effect," Deputy Superintendent Sandy Hollinger said. "But I have trust in Mary that it will be a smooth transition."
    Hollinger added that she was "confident that (Chambers) is going to be with us through the (upcoming) budget process."
    Should she stay on through September, Chambers' tenure as superintendent will be about four years, less than the five years averaged nationwide, according to a survey by the National School Boards Association.
    Chambers signed a three-year contract with the Alachua County School Board in October 2000, after a two-month stint as interim superintendent. She replaced former Superintendent Lawrence Marazza.
    In pursuing three other superintendent jobs in the past two years, Chambers said she was not unhappy in Alachua County but wanted to explore other opportunities.
    "I've accepted that the board would like to have its own person," Chambers told The Sun after applying for the Sarasota job in September, referring to the three new School Board members elected in 2002. "This will give the board an opportunity to choose its own superintendent."
    Chambers' career began as a financial administrator and then as a certified public accountant. In 1987, she became assistant superintendent of business services in Seminole County schools, moving to Alachua County schools five years later to take the same position.
    Douane D. James can be reached at (352) 374-5087 or

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