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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

No public records yet in Pasco investigation of superintendent's alleged actions

The Pasco School Board dropped a bomb last week when it launched an investigation into whether superintendent Heather Fiorentino and her staff had initimidated or threatened district employees into supporting her campaign.

The move came just six weeks before Fiorentino stands for reelection against hard-charging challenger Kurt Browning -- not to mention just days before absentee ballots are to arrive in the mail. The outcome of the review could arrive after the votes are cast, Fiorentino has noted, suggesting that her detractors simply were looking for a headline.

Hoping to gain more details about the allegations, we requested all e-mails, phone messages, letters and any other documents that the board or its representatives receive, generate or send relating to the investigation. They won't be made public for at least a couple of weeks.

"At this time, the records that you have requested are directly related to an active investigation of employees of the state school system by the School Board Chair pursuant to School Board Policy 1211," board attorney Dennis Alfonso told the Gradebook in a letter.  "Pursuant to a number of provisions of Florida Law, (including without limitation, F.S. §1012.31), such records are exempt from disclosure until the investigation is concluded or ceases to be active."

He added that the district will protect anyone who comes forward under whistleblower status.

Alfonso anticipated making a report to the School Board on July 24 as to whether he has uncovered enough information to warrant a further look into the accusations. He said the board and his office so far had received limited feedback.

One district department director did send a letter to the board and also forwarded it to the Gradebook. Student services director Lizette Alexander, whose husband was a department head under superintendent John Long, chastised the board for playing politics with the school district. She wrote, in part:

"I have never been intimidated or pressured by the Superintendent or staff to support her campaign.  Any one that knows me and my personal degree of independence, would immediately know how preposterous an allegation that is. ... After all my years of public service, it saddens me to watch our Board engage in such openly political behavior.

Stay tuned as the campaign season continues.

[Last modified: Monday, July 9, 2012 3:06pm]


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