The Columbus Board of Education is holding out hope that the district's new superintendent will begin work in January, even though she announced Friday that she won't leave her current job until the end of the school year.

Talisa Dixon's start date at Ohio's largest school district is still flexible and "we'll be in negotiations with Dr. Dixon," board President Gary Baker said Tuesday.

>>Read more: New Columbus City Schools chief plans to listen, learn, lead

That optimism stands in marked contrast to official statements from the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City Schools that Dixon isn't going anywhere for about nine more months. 

"We still have important work to finish this year, and that is why I am committed to staying in (the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City Schools) through the end of the school year," Dixon was quoted as saying in a written statement released by the suburban Cleveland district Friday afternoon. "I intend to see through our initiatives here before transitioning to Columbus."

Dixon didn't say whether that meant the end of the fiscal year, which would be June 30, or the academic year, which would be sooner.

>>Read more: Talisa Dixon names new Columbus City Schools superintendent

"At the end of the school year, we will wish Dr. Dixon and Columbus much success," the Cleveland Heights-University Heights school board said in the same statement, adding that Dixon's decision to remain there through the end of this school year will ensure that the district stays on track with a five-year strategic plan.

Columbus City Schools issued a statement the same day saying that "it's hoped" Dixon will start in Columbus on Jan. 1. But if she's intent on delaying that until the end of the school year, that means it will have taken the district almost two years after previous Superintendent Dan Good gave notice to the school board of his retirement in August 2017 to replace its superintendent. He left in December 2017.

Baker said the Columbus board has made it clear that it would be flexible so it could hire the best candidate. The suburban Cleveland district said in its statement that it appreciates Columbus' flexibility so that it has enough time to find Dixon's replacement.

"In the meantime, the board will continue to look to our interim superintendent to lead this district forward,” Baker said in a written statement last week. “We thank Dr. John Stanford for addressing and advancing several key initiatives and launching our successful school year."

Stanford took over as acting superintendent in January 2018. He "will keep this district on a mission-driven path that lays a firm foundation for our next superintendent,” the statement said.

Last week, the board held three meet-and-greet sessions with three superintendent candidates on three consecutive days, then convened a special board meeting less than 24 hours after the last session to name the winner. Asked about the swiftness of that process, Baker said: "We've had an interim superintendent since November, so the board set an aggressive timeline because we think it's important to identify a permanent superintendent as soon as possible."

The board began a previous search last fall and was on track to hire a replacement by January, but that search fell apart after state Auditor Dave Yost warned that the board might have violated the state's Open Meetings Act by deciding privately which finalists to interview.

bbush@dispatch.com

@ReporterBush