‘We’ve never only had 10 applicants’: Consultants cite timing, volatility for low interest in DCPS superintendent job

After the Duval County School Board voted on Wednesday to pause the search for a new superintendent and re-advertise the position at a later date, it’s uncertain whether a new job posting in early 2024 will draw a wider pool of qualified candidates.

Andrea Messina, the president of the Florida School Boards Association, which is the firm hired by the Duval County School Board to help it hire a new superintendent, said there were several reasons some high-level school administrators held off on applying.

“This team…we’ve never only had ten applicants,” Messina said at a DCPS board meeting Tuesday.

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Messina and her colleagues told the board that some potential candidates didn’t apply for the job because they were concerned about the upcoming school board elections in November. Four out of seven candidates will be on the ballot, and two more could be, depending on the outcome of a redistricting case.

“It was described to me by one person with whom I spoke that, ‘You want me to take a career risk, and there could potentially be six new board members? I just can’t take that risk right now,’” Messina said.

The superintendent job, which was offering a salary range of $275,000 to $350,000, was seen by some potential applicants as a career risk they couldn’t afford to take.

“Applying for a superintendency today and being a superintendent today is different than even it was six months ago or a year ago,” Messina said. “There’s just been a lot of volatility in the role of superintendent.”

The consultants also said some candidates didn’t want to apply for a job that would start in January, in the middle of the school year.

However, other searches conducted by the FSBA during the school year in 2019 and 2020 had significantly more applicants than Duval County did this year, and Florida counties conducting searches the first half of this year also saw two to three times more applicants, according to FSBA data shared with News4JAX.

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Former Duval County School Board chair Elizabeth Andersen said she was surprised there were so few applicants. The last time Duval County was looking for a new superintendent, around 70 people applied.

“The world changed. I mean, from 2018, we’re not in the same position at all, especially public education in the state of Florida,” Andersen said.

She said new state laws have created a challenging climate for educators.

“They’re getting a lot of pressure from all sides. It’s not an easy job. And so that’s got to be a really desirable position and place to go,” Andersen said. “The timing is not good for it. But I hope that when the board goes back out, we will see more people interested.”

The president of the Florida School Boards Association said she can’t say for sure if there will be more people interested in applying for the Duval County Superintendent job the second time around.

“It’s possible circumstances could get worse for superintendents, or more uncertain for superintendents. It’s also possible things could settle down for superintendents…the fact that we even had as many searches this year as we had had something to do with the public education climate,” Messina said.

In a statement to News4JAX Thursday, Duval County School Board chair Dr. Kelly Coker said:

Regardless of speculation, these are the facts:

1. We are in a great place right now under Dr. Kriznar’s leadership.

2. We are in a difficult time of the year for a successful sitting superintendent to make a job change.

3. The pool available to us was not sufficient for a job of this caliber in a community as desirable as ours.

4. We will not be pressed into a fast decision. It is the most important decision we will make, and our board will take the time to get it right.

Duval County School Board chair Dr. Kelly Coker

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