Hernando board split on superintendent negotiations
BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County School Board is divided along predictable lines over the question of how much money to offer in contract negotiations with superintendent Lori Romano and how likely she is to stay in her current job.
Romano is a finalist for the same job in the much larger Osceola County School District. Its board is scheduled to meet Jan. 19 to choose a new superintendent — a job that is advertised as paying between $185,000 and $225,000 a year.
Hernando School Board Chairman Matt Foreman, the board member leading the negotiations, has not commented other than to say he is trying to schedule a meeting to discuss negotiations before Osceola makes its decision; as of early this week, the time for that meeting had not been set.
Meanwhile, Romano’s stalwart supporters on the board, Gus Guadagnino and Mark Johnson, said they are confident that Romano will agree to stay if the board acts quickly to offer her what they described as a reasonable salary.
“The last conversation I had with the superintendent was that she wasn’t chasing money,” Guadagnino said. “She wants to stay in Hernando, but she wants to be paid what she deserves.”
Romano did not return a call seeking comment but previously released a statement saying she would not use her authority to schedule a meeting.
Board member Beth Narverud said the board has talked publicly about the need to pay Romano, who now receives a base salary of $120,000, more than the current district cap of $130,000. Though she isn’t directly involved in the negotiations and doesn’t know the precise terms of the latest offer, it likely started from there and increased over the three years of the contract’s term, and included several thousands of dollars of incentives and benefits, she said.
If that isn’t enough for Romano, the board is better off waiting until after Jan. 19 to make its decision, she said.
“I can’t imagine that (Romano) would give us an answer before she finds out her standing with the other county,” Narverud said.
Board member Susan Duval, like Narverud, has criticized Romano in the past but wants to keep her if her salary can be justified by the cash-strapped district. However, that amount is limited, she said, and she doubts that Romano would stay in Hernando if Osceola offers her its job.
“I’m not sure of the benefit of moving ahead with an offer at this time,” Duval said. “And I’m not sure that’s a good position to put her in.”
This is particularly true, she said, because appointed superintendents naturally seek bigger and better-paying districts.
“That’s one of the nuances of the profession,” she said. “Osceola is a step up the professional ladder.”
Both Johnson and Guadagnino seemed more willing to agree to Romano’s demands if that’s what it takes to keep her.
Both said she has performed well in her job and suggested that a substantial raise would be worth avoiding the disruption and cost of replacing her.
“We’re going to have to pay (a new superintendent) more than we’re paying her, and we’re going to have to hire a headhunter,” Johnson said.
“I think a lot of people look at it as an expense,” Guadagnino said. “I look at it as an investment.”