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Lee ex-school superintendent Christopher Bernier one of two finalists for Duval schools post

Lee County School District Superintendent Christopher Bernier addresses a crowd of more than 100 parents, staff, and community members at the first of three town hall-style events at Caloosa Elementary in Cape Coral on Sept. 1.
John Davis, WGCU
Former Lee County School District Superintendent Christopher Bernier, who stepped down from the post April 8, is one of two finalists for the Duvall County superintendent's position.

Former Lee County School superintendent Christopher Bernier is one of two finalists to be Duval County schools superintendent.

The Jacksonville Florida Times-Union reported Tuesday that Bernier and another finalist are set to visit Jacksonville next week for job interviews and meetings with school staff and the public.

Bernier was sworn in as Lee County's superintendent in May 2022. The following November, 62 percent of Lee County voters decided to no longer have the school board appoint the superintendent as they have done since the early 1970s. The vote was in favor to make the position partisan.

Bernier made $275,400 a year. Under a contract separation agreement approved by the board April 8, he continues to get paid for the next 20 months and serve in an advisory role as needed.

The Times-Union report said finalists Bernier and Daniel Smith will visit schools, talk to a focus group from the public plus senior school district figures and attend a public meet-and-greet gathering Monday, May 13, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Everbank Stadium.

The newspaper also reported that interviews by the finalists with a focus group of residents recruited by board members will be open to the public and are scheduled to start at 8:30 a.m. May 13 at the Shultz Center for Teaching and Leadership at 4019 Boulevard Center.

Under Lee County's voter-approved mandate, the only requirement for someone to be considered for the top spot would be residency rules requiring that the candidate must live in Lee.

In districts where boards appoint superintendents, a candidate's academic credentials and experience in multiple aspects of education tend to play key roles.

So far, three candidates have filed paperwork to run for the Lee County position, Republicans Denise Carlin, Morgan Wright and Democrat Sheridan Chester.

This past fall Bernier declined filing paperwork to seek the soon-to-be elected seat and said partisan-type positions were never his aspiration for his academic career. This winter, Bernier was a finalist for an appointed superintendent position in Omaha, but he did not get the job.

School board members learned Bernier wanted to end his reign over the April 6-7 weekend. In spite of knowing his intentions to no longer serve in Lee County at least past this fall's election, they seemed stunned by the suddenness.

School board chairman Samuel Fisher wrapped up the meeting saying this: "I truly appreciate the service Dr. Bernier has given to this district and the path forward we have now."

Florida and Alabama are the only states that allow a provision to elect superintendents.

A majority of counties in Florida, especially small counties, have elected superintendents. Large counties still appoint.

Until Lee County elects its next superintendent this fall, Pasco County is the largest school district to have partisan superintendent races. Lee County — with nearly 100,000 children in the public school system — is the 9th largest district in the state and 32nd largest in the country.

The board voted 5 to 2 on April 9 to have the board attorney enter into contract with Ken Savage to serve as interim superintendent.

Savage, who has been with the district for many years, previously served as interim superintendent prior to Bernier’s appointment.

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