Even Withdrawn, Orndorff’s Name Pervades Superintendent Search, and Accents Divide
FlaglerLive | April 4, 2017
The Flagler County School Board in a brief workshop this afternoon accepted the five short-listed names a citizen’s advisory panel submitted in the search for a superintendent to replace Jacob Oliva, who’s taking a job at the state Department of Education in June. But the meeting again brought to the fore the divide between school board members favoring an internal candidate against those looking for broader choices.
The divide lingers even as Vernon Orndorff, the only internal candidate, had withdrawn his name even before the advisory board started deliberating. Orndorff, who’s been Oliva’s deputy, is taking a job as a principal in Texas, in a step toward becoming a superintendent at a 250-student district there, and to be closer to family. He’d applied for the top job in Flagler and Alachua, made the final five in Alachua, and all but certainly would have made the final five in Flagler, where a considerable number of the 17 members of the advisory council wanted to see his name in the mix–if not the board still make an offer to him.
Kevin James, another advisory board member, made just such a proposal to the board this afternoon. Orndorff told FlaglerLive last week that his decision to leave is not reversible. (Myra Middleton-Valentine, the former school board candidate who headed the advisory group and had also participated in the group three years ago, offered no opinion regarding the divide.)
Orndorff’s withdrawal should have put to rest the debate over an internal versus an external candidate. It appears not to have done so. Two members of the advisory committee today asked the School Board to consider re-opening the application period and give internal candidates another chance to apply. One of the two members, Catherine Evans, said that Orndorff’s presence among the applicants had caused some internal candidates to choose against applying out of respect for him. And though Evans was not looking to “open the floodgates again and get another bog binder” of applicants, she said with Orndorff gone, some of those internal; applicants might be more inclined to apply.
It is just as likely that applicants beyond Flagler were dissuaded from applying for the same reason. The Orndorff candidacy had for a time taken on the same appearance of inevitability as had that of Oliva three years ago, to the displeasure of notable voices–among them board member Colleen Conklin and members of the NAACP’s local branch. Then as now, the district went through a similar application and advisory council process, with Oliva all along the local, overwhelming favorite. The district got a couple of dozen applicants, two dropped out after being short-listed for interviews, and Oliva was appointed.
This time 41 candidates applied though by the time the advisory committee met two had withdrawn and eight had turned in applications that did not meet the board’s criteria, leaving just 33 names to choose from. One of them, Phyllis Edwards, is as close as an internal candidate can be at this stage: she spent much of her career in the Flagler district, rising to assistant superintendent before leaving in 2003 to be the superintendent of a district in Georgia for 13 years. The other candidates are Jeffrey Umbaugh, a former assistant superintendent of Clay County schools; James Tager, the principal at Atlantic High School in Volusia County; Geneva Stark, a human resources administrator at Jefferson County schools in Kentucky, and Ronnie Dotson, a superintendent at Carter County schools, also in Kentucky.
Board member Janet McDonald appeared intrigued by the proposal to reopen the application process. She is concerned by the learning curve a new superintendent will have, though the short-list includes three candidates amply familiar with Florida law and the Florida school system.
“They’ve given you five names, but there’s still 38 names as well for the board to consider,” Kristy Gavin, the board’s attorney, told the members. “It is your purview to disregard the five names, it is your purview to accept the concerns and if you want to have internal candidates you could do that and open it up for a brief period.”
But Conklin, reviving her resistance of a pro-forma approach favoring internal candidates, said it was too late to redraw the procedure. “If you throw the process out at this point it looks very disingenuous,” she said. The superintendent’s position “was not one individual’s job to have,” Conklin said, otherwise the district would not have adopted the process it did to start with. “I would not support opening it up and going through it again.” Board member Maria Barbosa agreed.
“I still think Mr. Orndorff is far and away our best candidate,” board member Andy Dance said. He;d favored offering the job to Orndorff before the search. He still did, sending an odd message to the short-listed candidates: “looking at the total pool of candidate I would support offering him the job.” But, he added, “the other candidates have some solid experience.”
The board agreed to stick with the short-listed five, and to bring back to their April 11 meeting whatever additional names they’d like considered for interviews. That’s the meeting that will decide who will be interviewed in person.