As prophesies go, the Flagler County School Board had not kept that one a secret: its members made clear last fall that Jacob Oliva, the assistant superintendent and acting superintendent since Thanksgiving, was their man for the job. Any challenger would have to be extremely convincing to overcome the confidence he’s enjoyed from the board.
Only 19 challengers applied–not counting those who were disqualified for not following directions–when the board advertised the position around the holidays, and only two made the interview list: Oliva and Pamela Tapley, an assistant superintendent at Osceola County schools. In the end (as it had been at the beginning), it was almost all Oliva.
The board voted 5-0 Tuesday evening to give him the superintendent’s job. He replaces Janet Valentine, who was on the job a few months short of four years until a stroke ended her tenure just before Thanksgiving. The announcement was made just before 6:45 p.m., after board members voted by non-secret, written ballot. The board attorney tabulated the results as the room fell silent for a long pause. She then handed the results to each board member before the actual announcement.
The tally was actually 4-1: Board Chairman Andy Dance, John Fischer, Sue Dickinson and Trevor Tucker voted for Oliva. Colleen Conklin voted for Tapley. Tapley sat among the audience. She was smiling faintly before the vote. Her expression did not change as the tally was read.
Immediately after the vote, Conklin said the vote to actually appoint Oliva superintendent should be unanimous. And so it was.
Board Attorney Kristy Gavin will negotiate the contract with Oliva.
Dickinson wanted to pay Oliva more than his current salary for taking on the superintendent’s job before the actual July 1 start date kicks in. Oliva declined the proposal. “I will refuse any stipend,” he said, “and if the board feels compelled to give me any stipend I would request that it donates it to the mentor program.”
Oliva and Gavin will be negotiating a three-year contract, with a pay range starting at $125,000, but with an unclear ceiling at this point. Valentine was making around $150,000. Oliova’s salary may be somewhat less, based on a “step” process that takes experience into account. Oliva is currently making $103,886.
What few surprises accompanied the process were in the rapid and various twists the hiring process took since December, the displeasures of the search committee, which complained about the compressed schedule and grumbled about its more cosmetic role, and the dearth of applicants once the job was posted.
Conklin alluded to some of those issues in her closing statement.
“I know that Jacob will do a wonderful job,” Conklin said, explaining her dissenting vote. She commended Gavin and the search committee, “but I’m not going to lie and say that I’m not disappointed in this process, and I am grateful that it is over.” She said the district had once belonged to the Florida School Board Association, which handles such things as superintendent searches, but had to cut its ties to save money. Conklin said she hopes the membership can be renewed. “Moving forward I see nothing but great things for Flagler County,” she said, “so I hope you understand my position and my vote.”
Oliva had stepped out of the room when the board members voted. He walked back in to a standing ovation. He took the same seat he’d been occupying since November.
“It’s time to move on to our next item on the agenda,” Dance said, after summing up his own thoughts on the process, which he said was very valuable, down to showing the leadership visions of the two finalists.
Valentine was due to retire on June 30, she announced that she would not be returning to work, as she’d devote her time to rehabilitation. Superintendent Janet Valentine chose Oliva as her assistant superintendent in 2012. Hers was among the rousing endorsements–by way of a recommendation letter-for Oliva’s appointment as her successor.
“The community will be watching,” Myra Middle-ton-Valentine, a member of the search committee and a former high administrator in the district told the board during the public comment period, “not in a critical way. We’re here to assist and to be involved.”
During the workshop that preceded the meeting, the board discussed previous ways that the board had appointed its superintendents. It was done with individual ballots. They replicated the method tonight. They wrote their name on their ballot, and place a 1 or a 2 next to the names of the two candidates on the ballot (Oliva and Tapley). The results were then announced.
The school board’s meeting room is usually quite full at the beginning of meetings, mostly because school staff and students show up for spotlight presentations that highlight some of the district’s greater achievements. When that segment of the meeting is over, the board chairman usually invites audience members to leave, if they wish to, recognizing that the rest of the meeting can be taking on any audience’s patience. Tuesday evening, the room was three-quarters full. It was still half-full when the appointment was announced.
Toward the end of the meeting, Tucker, frugal down to his words, had this to say to Oliva: “Congratulations, Jacob. Thank you for not taking any more money.”