When the Flagler County School Board took its seats this afternoon for a workshop, Colleen Conklin was absent. And so will she be for the next few weeks: being one of the 35 candidates for superintendent, Conklin told her colleagues in an email two hours before the meeting today that she would be taking a leave from all board meetings until the board is expected to vote on a new superintendent on March 10.
“I have the utmost respect for each of you and the superintendent search process,” Conklin wrote. “I understand the challenges and pressure you are under having participated in multiple searches as a school board member myself. Now as an applicant, I recognize both the real and perceived conflicts that have arisen and may continue to arise due to my application.”
Conklin said that she expected no preferential treatment in the selection process, and sought to “ensure that the search for Flagler’s next leader remains above reproach. To accomplish this, I will, as many elected officials from the local level to the federal level have done before me, step away for a short time from my school board responsibilities.”
School Board Chairman Janet McDonald read a statement at the beginning of this afternoon’s workshop that largely paraphrased but did not directly quote Conklin’s email. The statement appears to have been written by Kristy Gavin, the board attorney who has handled all aspects of the superintendent search process in tandem with consultants from the Florida School Board Association.
Conklin’s decision to run sent ripples of questions, enthusiasm, apprehension and some criticism through the community. Conklin had appointed four of the 20 members of a citizens advisory panel that meets this evening for the first time to cull through the 35 applications and prepare a short list to send to the school board. Each board member appointed four members. But Gavin announced Friday that the four Conklin appointees would not be seated. One of those four, Stephen Furnari, wrote critically of Conklin’s decision as well as Gavin’s decision, which was done outside the parameters of a school board meeting.
Conklin has previously said that if she were to not get the superintendent position, she would resume her duties as a board member and run again this year, for what would be her sixth term. She compared her leave of absence to a medical or family or personal leave. “I believe it is in the best interest of the School Board, the District and our community to recuse myself from Flagler County School Board business until March 17th. or until a new superintendent is named by the board.”
The board has set March 10 as the date when it would vote to hire the new superintendent, at a special meeting. That means Conklin would miss just one regular business meeting between now and then, not including special meetings or the March 17 meeting when, presumably, she would either way take one of two seats on the dais at the Government Services Building. Meanwhile, she will have missed today’s agenda workshop, an information workshop and a business meeting on Feb. 18, another agenda workshop on March 3 and the information workshop ahead of the March 17 meeting. Conklin has almost always monitored from afar whatever meeting she’s not attended–or reviewed the tapes.
Interviewed briefly today, for instance, she was monitoring the still-ongoing workshop (as candidates for such positions routinely do as well, even when they’re not board members).
“I will only be missing one business meeting,” she said in the interview, explaining that her time away would have limited effect. “Any major changes to policy really takes 60 days, between advertising, adoption, workshopping and having it placed onto an agenda item.” She does not expect policy changes in her absence. “In fairness to the board members and to the comm and everyone involved it’s better if I remove myself from the situation at this point in time,” she said.
Asked if the community should read into her leave of absence any hesitancy or second thoughts about her decision to run for superintendent, Conklin answered categorically: “Absolutely not, if anything I want my application to be taken very seriously.”
In her email, Conklin wrote: “I want to be clear that I have every expectation of resuming my duties upon completion of the search. And regardless of the outcome, will continue in the same professional fashion as I have in the past. Temporarily stepping aside, would remove all from any possible conflicts, perceived or real and allow your focus and attention to be on all superintendent candidates. Additionally, I want to signal to all other applicants that I intend for this to be a fair and just process, and that I will participate in that process just as they will.
The $3,000 to $4,000 Conklin is expected to earn from her board salary while away will be donated to the Flagler Education Foundation, the district’s non-profit arm, she said.
“I have full confidence that this is the best decision for me, my family, this community, and the school district,” she wrote her colleagues. “I apologize in advance for the difficult position this has put each of you in. I have full confidence that this board will make the best decision for the future of Flagler County Schools.”