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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

At FAMU, "it's so blatant"



Holmes3_2 Charges of cronyism are flying at FAMU again after the brother of a powerful trustee was hired to head the university's troubled K-12 research school. At the recommendation of FAMU President James Ammons, the university Board of Trustees voted Dec. 31 to hire Ronald Holmes (left) as the new superintendent for the FAMU Development Research School, which earned an F grade from the state last year.

Holmes, now an assistant principal at an Atlanta-area high school, is the brother of the Rev. R.B. Holmes, the trustees vice chair and an influential player in Tallahassee politics.

The family connection "just blasts you in the face," said Michael Wallace, who chairs the school's advisory council and has four children enrolled there, told The Gradebook yesterday. Favoritism is part of the mix in any political town, he continued, "But the sad thing with FAMU is, it's so blatant."

Three days before the new superintendent is slated to begin his new job, bruised feelings remain. And some wonder whether a hiring controversy will divert attention from improving student performance at a school where only 36 percent of students passed the reading FCAT last year.

Ronald Holmes declined to comment when reached by The Gradebook this morning, but R.B. Holmes said he had nothing to do with his brother's hiring. He said he did not mention the job opening to his brother, did not participate in the search process, and did not talk with Ammons or other trustees. In fact, he said, when his brother told him he planned to apply, he tried to dissuade him "because of the skepticism, because of what people may say."

"If I were him, I wouldn't do it," R.B. Holmes said. "He doesn't need that kind of drama."

Trustees Chairman Bill Jennings dismissed the criticism, pointing to Ronald Holmes' qualifications. Holmes has a bachelor's, a master's and a doctoral degree from FAMU and a master's in business education from Bowling Green State University, according to the web site from Banneker High School in College Park, Ga. Holmes has been an assistant principal there for 10 years.

"I would have a different feeling if I reviewed the background and the experience of the candidate and found out it was someone who was clearly not qualified," Jennings said.

Jennings said when Ammons told him about Ronald Holmes' connection to Rev. Holmes, he thought to himself that the link could become an issue but did not mention that concern to Ammons. Instead, he said, he asked Ammons if Rev. Holmes or any other trustees had talked to him about the selection, and Ammons assured him they had not. After R. B. Holmes recused himself from voting, the trustees voted to give Ronald Holmes a 3-year contract with a salary of $110,000.

- Ron Matus, state education reporter

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 9:32am]


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