Updated 3 yearss ago
To most everyone's surprise across this string of tourism-dependent islands, Bush ignored the recommendation of the Monroe County School Board and named retired Key West investor and philanthropist John Padget to the post. Deputy Superintendent Peg Smith -- the school board's top choice -- resigned shortly after Padget's appointment.
While the Harvard-educated Padget had earned kudos for raising funds for Monroe's Take Stock in Children program, he had no experience in school administration. He will serve out the remainder of Lannon's term, which expires in November 2004.
Padget's tenure has been tumultuous. Within weeks of taking office, he riled many veteran school officials by criticizing the pace of the district's construction program and by announcing a reorganization of top management. He also challenged a board proposal to extend a half-penny sales tax for school construction.
But Padget has supporters. Many residents applauded when he criticized the $265,000 annual contract awarded to Ken and Sheila East, who run a company that oversees school construction. (Ken East resigned in September after publicly criticizing Padget during a school board meeting.)
His supporters believe Padget, as a businessman and school district outsider, is bringing more accountability to a bloated bureaucracy. Indeed, Padget has made that his principal goal. "This is a government bureaucracy with its own speed and rhythms," he says. "It seems people here are more concerned about processes than they are about the outcomes of what we do."
Whatever the view on Padget, his appointment has rekindled debate in Monroe over how to select the county's superintendent of schools. School board members believe the authority should lie with them, not voters. Last August, the board approved a resolution to place on the March presidential primary ballot a referendum asking voters to transfer that responsibility from voters countywide to the five-member school board. A similar referendum has been defeated twice over the past 27 years.
Padget says it's too early to say if he'll try to keep his job beyond his current term, but his motives offer a clue: "I'm not here to keep the seat warm. I want to make a difference, however long that takes."
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