New president brings ‘fresh eyes’ to FSCJ
Minutes after the Florida State College at Jacksonville board of trustees unanimously selected its choice for the school's next president, Cynthia Bioteau's phone in Utah rang.
On the other end was board Chair Jimmie Mayo, interim college President Willis Holcombe and others asking her to become the college's next leader.
Bioteau, president of Salt Lake Community College, accepted.
"It was a delightful call," she said later by phone Tuesday.
The Jacksonville community is new to her, but she said she has long admired FSCJ from afar in Utah and while serving in leadership roles at community colleges in North Carolina and Massachusetts.
When the conversations of "who is doing it right" in open-access colleges came up, FSCJ and several other Florida schools were part of the discussion, she said. The opportunity to be a part of it led to "great interest."
She doesn't know anyone in Jacksonville, but the advice and perspectives about the school from other college presidents across the state helped make her decision.
One college president she did not talk to was Steve Wallace, the former FSCJ president who resigned last year amid local and statewide scrutiny over his spending practices and other issues. He continued to serve the college independently until his contract was terminated in August when the board learned from an Inspector General's Office report that Wallace has been investigated for possible ethics violations and misuse of leave time.
The report, ordered by Gov. Rick Scott, also found "inadequate" policies and procedures that allowed Wallace and other staff to use Florida State College Foundation funds with no benefit to the college. Also labeled "inadequate" was the college's governance structure to ensure such expenses properly benefited the college.
"I am always open to have conversations with those who can lend insight," said Bioteau of a potential conversation with Wallace.
Her first priority, though, will be to work with Holcombe, who has served in an interim role since January. She said the longtime educator could provide the "greatest overview" of what is happening with the college as the transition takes place.
Bioteau said that despite the "hiccups" of the past administration, she learned through her few meetings with faculty and students that "the teaching and learning never faltered." She said that when she arrives — her goal is January — she looks forward to learning more about priorities from students, faculty and the board.
And, despite the "hiccups," Bioteau said her presence will help move the college forward.
"Quite honestly, having a new president with fresh eyes and new enthusiasm is the greatest catalyst," she said.
Mayo called the board's decision for Bioteau a "new beginning."
"Any time you make a change in your senior leadership … it's a time for re-evaluation and a time for rededication to the things you consider to be important," Mayo said after the meeting.
He said the past year "has been a very difficult time" for the college and it has been a learning experience for the board members, many of whom are new. He said Bioteau and the board are committed to governance and ensuring how the college can best serve the community.
One quality Mayo said was appealing was Bioteau's successful partnerships with legislators, who decide on funding for the schools.
Bioteau said she does have a good relationship with the officials, which involves one-on-one meetings during and outside of the legislative session, many times on campus with students and faculty.
As for those who attend and teach, Bioteau says her relationships in the past have been successful because she is "an academic by training and passion."
Mayo, Holcombe and others will negotiate a contract with Bioteau over the next month with the anticipation the deal could be agreed upon and approved by the board in November.
Bioteau said she did not yet know what priorities she would seek in the contract, while Mayo said he wanted a transparent contract that appropriately compensated her. Asked what "appropriate" meant in terms of figures, Mayo said he was still learning.
Wallace made more than $500,000 in total compensation.
Holcombe said Bioteau is well known nationally and among college presidents.
"She is an experienced, bright, creative and enthusiastic leader," Holcombe said.
When the transition is complete, Holcombe said he will return to retirement.