Orlando Sentinel | By Leslie Postal | May 23, 2022
Fifteen people applied to be the next superintendent of Orange County Public Schools by the Friday night deadline, with Superintendent Barbara Jenkins’ top deputy among those seeking to replace her when she retires this fall.
The pool of applicants includes experienced school administrators, candidates with interesting backgrounds that might pique the Orange County School Board’s interest and a few, as expected, who are unqualified to lead one of the largest school district’s in the country, said Andrea Messina, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association, which is running the OCPS superintendent search.
The number of applicants is also far smaller than the school district likely would have received a few years ago, Messina said.
“The numbers for superintendent applicants are going way down across the country,” she said. “It’s not as a desirable a job as it once was.”
The superintendent’s job has always been a high-profile one with lots of responsibility but a lot of “community division” in the last year has made it a less appealing and one viewed as “far more in the hot seat than it ever was before,” she added.
Anger about face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic sparked heated school board meetings in Orange, across Florida and the country and continued debates about books and about teaching topics related to LGBTQ people and race have, too.
In early 2021, more than 50 people applied to be the Polk County school district’s new superintendent but since then most Florida superintendent jobs have received far less interest, Messina said. The Pinellas County school district, which just wrapped up its superintendent search, received 19 applicants.
Among the applicants who want to lead Orange are Deputy Superintendent Maria Vazquez, who has Jenkins’ support, a regional superintendent for the Palm Beach County school district, a superintendent for a small South Carolina school district who was his state’s superintendent of the year, and administrators with the New York City and Washington, D.C., school systems.
The Orange County School Board, which hires the superintendent, will begin discussing the applicants at a meeting Wednesday. It hopes to make a decision by the end of June.
The school board expects to offer its new superintendent a three-year contract with a salary range of $295,000 to $350,000 annually. After considering public opinion shared in surveys and meetings, the board said it preferred candidates who had been a teacher, principal and an administrator and worked in districts with at least 35,000 students.
Orange has more than 206,000 students and more than 25,000 employees.
Chair Teresa Jacobs said she was “a little surprised” there were not more applications but also understood the current climate made it a tough job.
Because Orange is the nation’s ninth largest school district, some school administrators may not feel they have the qualifications to run such a large operation, she added, and Florida’s public records law, which means applications are public, could discourage some applicants, too.
But Jacobs said she felt confident there were quality candidates among the 15.
Jenkins, who has been in the job for a decade, is retiring at the end of this year. Her decision was dictated by her entry into the state’s deferred retirement plan in 2018. That requires her to stop work by the end of 2022.