LEE COUNTY SCHOOLS: Bonardi explains lone vote against hiring of new supt.

Apr. 11, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

The vote to hire Andy Bryan as the next superintendent of Lee County Schools was met with a standing ovation at the Lee County Board of Education at about 8:15 p.m. Tuesday night. The vote took less than a minute, came with no public discussion and — with a 6-1 vote — wasn't unanimous.

But after the meeting, Bryan said he wasn't worried that John Bonardi, the school board's vice chairman, voted against his selection. The next day, Bonardi said it wasn't a vote against Bryan — whom he said ought to be a good leader — but rather a vote against how he was chosen.

"I have the highest regard of the work Andy's done here," Bonardi said. "It was simply I couldn't support not making at least an effort to ensure that we get the very best available candidate for the position. You know, we hired a superintendent last night without ever soliciting applications, without doing interviews, without asking any questions. We basically just appointed Andy, and I was not comfortable with that process."

Bryan was a finalist in the nationwide search the board conducted about five years ago when Jeff Moss was hired, going through the application and interview process then. But Bonardi pointed out that the majority of current board members weren't on the board at that time. He said he wants to know what Bryan plans to keep the same, what he plans to change, how he plans to deal with budget cuts, and a host of other issues.

When The Herald asked Bryan similar questions Tuesday night, he didn't name specifics but rather said he will continue building on the progress made by current Supt. Moss, who will become superintendent of schools in Beaufort County, S.C., in July.

Board Chairman Dr. Lynn Smith said he had no problems with the selection. And barring any issues with Bryan's contract negotiations, he said he anticipates the hiring to be official within the next two weeks — which will give Moss several months to guide Bryan through the ins and outs of holding the district's top job.

"I think it makes perfect sense to hire from within," Smith said. "He's been here seven years, and he's been a central part of the progress we've made the last five years under Dr. Moss, and before. ... He has the overwhelming support of the community, the (Lee County) Education Foundation — and the number of teachers I've heard from personally is overwhelming."

But Bonardi, who had previously convinced the board to undertake a national search, said he wasn't happy the plans for a search were scrapped in favor of what happened Tuesday.

"The strange thing was that on two occasions, the board voted to do a search," he said. "But in closed session last night, it was very apparent that that was not going to happen."

No one can legally discuss what exactly was said in the closed session meeting about Bryan or the selection process, but Bonardi did say he wasn't happy.

"It caught me off guard," he said. "... I'm sure (Bryan) will be a very capable superintendent, but I feel like we didn't do our job. Our only responsibility for hiring is the superintendent, and I don't think we gave it enough due process or gave it our due diligence."