LEE COUNTY — After a long and, at times, heated debate, the Lee County School Board has chosen five candidates to bring in for interview in May. Collier superintendent Dennis Thompson, however, was not a name brought up during discussions.
The five candidates selected were chosen in agreement with Lee County's superintendent search committee's recommendations made Thursday evening.
Three of the candidates, Joseph Burke of Monroe County, Steven Cobb of Fort Wayne, Ind., and Kamela Patton of Miami-Dade County received four votes from the board members who participated in the vote. Naples High's Nancy Graham and Lee County's Constance Jones will also be brought in for interviews.
Patton, region administrator for Miami-Dade, is also a finalist in Collier County's search for superintendent. She will interview next Monday and the Collier school board will make a final decision by Wednesday.
Out of the six members on the board, Jane Kuckel passed on voting after voicing strong concerns that the applications the district received did not exemplify the experience she felt was necessary for Lee superintendent.
"The first thing that jumped out at me was that we didn't receive one application from a long-term, long-sitting superintendent" Kuckel said during the meeting. "Where was their vision in their application materials? For me it's not about finding a superman or a superwoman, it's about finding someone who has a proven track record."
Her recommendation to the board: postpone the hiring, repost the position and expand the list of applicants.
After much discussion over the feasibility of re-advertising for the position, Board Chairman Thomas Scott called on Florida School Boards Association Executive Director Wayne Blanton for advice on reopening the job posting.
"If you reopen it, some of your candidates will pull out," Blanton said. "I don't think you'd be getting more candidates to come in. ... You really don't know what you have until you interview."
Addressing the needs and wants of the district and those who elected the board members, both Scott and Vice Chairman Mary Fischer agreed that moving forward in the process was in the best interest of the district.
"I think there's a great danger in not proceeding to the interview portion of our plan," Scott told the board. "Otherwise, it looks like the tire fell off the vehicle and I worry about who would want to come to the district and see it is a viable place to work."
After an initial vote, in which board members stated their top five or six candidates, the board voted on either their top three or five candidates.
All four of the voting board members, excluding Jane Kuckel, selected Joseph Burke, Steven Cobb and Kamela Patton. Mary Fischer, Jeanne Dozier and Don Armstrong each voted for Nancy Graham and Constance Jones.
While concerns were raised about Cobb's out-of-state experience, the board agreed that qualities exhibited by Burke and Patton, particularly their experience with the Lee community and district, are qualities fit for the district.
"The best candidates for this district are home grown," Dozier said.
Once the meeting adjourned, Scott stated his confidence in the group of five candidates the board had chosen, saying he had no doubts that there was a superintendent in five candidates.
For Kuckel, while the decision to move forward was not one she recommended, she said she respects the board's decision and will participate actively in the process. However, until she knows someone can do the job, Kuckel said she's not interested in bring a person into the position.
"I think the interview process will help me form a stronger opinion, one way or the other," she said.
The next step in the search will be three day's worth of interviews and other activities, including a mock School Board meeting, beginning May 12.