BEST BUREAUCRATIC SWAN SONG - 2004
Battered, bruised, but far from beaten, Merrett Stierheim in June will relinquish his position as the superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools. When he took the $210,000 job in 2001, Stierheim set out to do what he does best: reform a public agency plagued by low morale, bureaucratic ineptitude, rampant cronyism, and outright corruption. He has succeeded on some fronts; for example, hiring the district's first inspector general and exposing the blatantly political nature of career advancement. But Stierheim was only able to scratch the surface of the deeply entrenched problems that cripple the nation's fourth-largest school district. In the months preceding his announcement that he would be stepping down, Stierheim found himself under constant attack: The teachers' union bashed him during contract negotiations; he clashed with the state oversight board that controlled tens of millions of dollars in school-construction money; and small-minded, short-sighted board members never stopped harassing him. But even as he prepares to depart, Stierheim's enemies are on their toes. The veteran bureaucrat is contemplating the unthinkable: running for a seat on the school board. "I care about the school district a lot," he says, "but do I really want to do something political when I've been apolitical all my professional life?"