POLL Collier School Board candidates evaluate how to replace Dennis Thompson

Superintendent Dr. Dennis Thompson listens to school board members discuss his evaluation while reviewing Thompson's contract at a special meeting at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Administration Building on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2010, in Naples. David Albers/Staff

Photo by DAVID ALBERS // Buy this photo

Superintendent Dr. Dennis Thompson listens to school board members discuss his evaluation while reviewing Thompson's contract at a special meeting at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Administration Building on Thursday, Aug. 12, 2010, in Naples. David Albers/Staff

Roy Terry

Roy Terry

Joe Whitehead

Joe Whitehead

Mary Ellen Cash

Mary Ellen Cash

— Now that Collier County schools Superintendent Dennis Thompson’s contract isn’t getting renewed, the nine Collier School Board candidates have to think about what the next superintendent will be like.

After all, three of them will be involved in the selection of the next superintendent, which current board members agreed shouldn’t start until after the November election.

The primary election is Tuesday.

While the candidates believe a search should start and include community input, they differ on the approach to that search.

District 5 candidate Mary Ellen Cash was the only candidate to recommend saving the money from a nationwide search by hiring from within the district or area.

“We have a lot of home-grown people with a lot of talent,” she said.

Cash, 55, is running against former Palmetto Ridge High School principal and current board member Roy Terry, 68, and retired Naples police detective Joe Whitehead, 51, for the seat, which includes Golden Gate Estates and Immokalee.

Cash said she found School Board Chairwoman Kathleen Curatolo’s vote surprising, thinking that Thompson would get a six-month grace period to renew his evaluation. Curatolo joined Terry and School Board Vice Chairwoman Julie Sprague in not renewing the contract.

Board members Pat Carroll and Steve Donovan voted against the motion to not renew his contract.

Terry didn’t approve of extending Thompson’s contract because “to vote to extend would be to say I approve of what happened three years ago.”

Because it wasn’t an open process in hiring Thompson, he couldn’t be effective, Terry said.

This is one of a series of stories about candidates and issues in Tuesday’s primary.

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As for what’s next, Terry said the current board needs to come up with a plan for how the next School Board will handle this.

Terry prefers an open, nationwide search and encouraged Thompson to apply.

Just as all the other candidates have stated, Terry said the hiring process should be open with much public input.

Whitehead went on the offensive, calling Terry’s decision as clouded as Thompson’s hiring, whether Terry made the right or wrong decision.

“Terry, who was in the DROP program, had his career as a principal cut short by Thompson,” Whitehead said, referring to Florida’s Deferred Retirement Option Program.

He added that Terry should have disclosed that when voting.

Terry called Whitehead’s accusation “ridiculous” because DROP is a state program and he never held Thompson responsible for the end of his job.

Whitehead didn’t take a strong stance on whether Thompson should have stayed, saying he wished he had the experience of working with him as a board member to better make that decision.

He blames the lack of Thompson’s success in-part on a board that “just sat there and let him flounder.”

Going forward, evaluations are going to be most important, said Whitehead, who holds the belief shared by the other candidates as well.

Barbara Berry

Barbara Berry

Reg Buxton, candidate for Collier County School Board 2010

Reg Buxton, candidate for Collier County School Board 2010

Kathy Ryan

Kathy Ryan

Candidates Reg Buxton, Kathleen Ryan and Barbara Berry, all vying for the seat in District 3, which includes North Naples and parts of Golden Gate Estates, agreed it was time for Thompson to go.

Buxton said that after listening to the community through his campaign he began to understand the level to which Thompson was ineffective.

Buxton called the board’s decision courageous.

“Dr. Thompson did not have the wherewithal to change his behavior and invest in the community for the purpose of establishing two-way communication,” said Buxton, the 66-year-old publisher of the Naples Journal.

The hiring process, criteria and evaluation process should be set by the new board when seated, Buxton said.

Berry, 70, praised Thompson for his financial accomplishments on behalf of the district, but said that wasn’t enough.

“Money is important, of course, but if you have no esprit de corps, no spirit of the group, then all the money in the world isn’t going to do anything,” Berry said.

She called for a new evaluation instrument based on more elements than just student test scores. Berry didn’t think it would do much good for Thompson to reapply for the job, saying that trust and communication are going to be key and that he can’t re-establish trust.

Ryan wasn’t surprised with the outcome and supported the board’s decision. The evaluation process needs to be changed and a nationwide search should be undertaken, the 69-year-old candidate said.

“If he (Thompson) really wants to stay, he can put his resume in and apply,” she said.

Ryan wants to see the selection process that was used years ago in which stakeholder groups interviewed the candidates and made their recommendations to the board.

The candidates of District 1, which includes portions of East Naples and Marco Island, are retired educator Rosanne Winter, 61, incumbent Pat Carroll, 57, and retired businessman Eric Cox, 68.

Rosanne Winter

Rosanne Winter

Pat Carroll

Pat Carroll

Eric Cox, Collier County School board candidate

Photo by MICHEL FORTIER // Buy this photo

Eric Cox, Collier County School board candidate

Winter said she thought the majority of board members took the option with the greatest promise.

The No. 1 task ahead, she said, is to rewrite the evaluation and use it as the basis for hiring the next superintendent.

“I would encourage Dr. Thompson to apply. He may learn he can’t ignore the community’s evaluation of him,” Winter said.

He will need to be willing to address the sins of his past if he applies, she said.

It’s imperative the community is included in the next search, Winter said.

“(The School Board) doesn’t work for anyone but the community,” she said.

Cox made his opinion clear during the public comment portion of the meeting before the board’s decision Thursday. He wanted Thompson gone.

“He remains a source of suspicion,” Cox said. “Simply just let him go. I’d prefer he were somewhere else.”

After the meeting, Cox said the board will start a national search immediately and have someone ready to step in at the end of Thompson’s current contract.

Carroll, who initially didn’t vote to hire Thompson, was among his supporters on the board Thursday.

She had mixed emotions about the result. That said, she is ready to move on.

“I am concerned for the district because of the lack of instability in leadership,” she said. “We need stability moving forward.”

Carroll said she favors the hiring approach the district took several years prior when the School Board hired Ben Marlin as superintendent. Then, a national search firm conducted interviews of community members and staff, and came back to the district with candidates that fit what the people said they wanted.

“You can’t just take out an ad and ask for a superintendent,” Carroll said.

CLICK HERE FOR Election 2010: VIDEO and bio on Collier School Board candidate Joe Whitehead

CLICK HERE FOR Election 2010: VIDEO and bio on Collier School Board candidate Roy Terry

CLICK HERE FOR Election 2010: VIDEO and bio on Collier School Board candidate Mary Ellen Cash

CLICK HERE FOR Election 2010: VIDEO and bio on Collier School Board candidate Patricia Carroll

CLICK HERE FOR Election 2010: VIDEO and bio on Collier School Board candidate Eric Cox

CLICK HERE FOR Election 2010: VIDEO and bio on Collier School Board candidate Rosanne Winter

CLICK HERE FOR Election 2010: VIDEO and bio on Collier School Board candidate Barbara Berry

CLICK HERE FOR Election 2010: VIDEO and bio on Collier School Board candidate Reg Buxton

CLICK HERE FOR Election 2010: VIDEO and bio on Collier School Board candidate Kathleen Ryan

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Comments » 1

mrh747 writes:

I have lived in Naples for 10 years. I cannot believe the numskull decisions made by School Boards in hiring. They are irresponsible. They throw money at these candidates like it is candy. How flagrant.
We need a complete change of Board Members and an a established protocol for hiring.
Voting for a Board Member is not a Popularity Contest. Can we not get past the GOOD OLE BOY MENTALITY, it is a business, we need members with business experience. THE BASIC MENTALITY OF EDUCATORS, IS RAISE TAXES, INCREASE IN SALARIES. After the fact, OH we need to maintain the schools and buy books, there is no money left.
Thanks

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