Saturday, June 16, 2018
Education

Browning asks Fiorentino to shelve hiring decisions until he takes over Pasco schools

LAND O'LAKES — He's not Pasco County schools superintendent yet.

But that didn't stop Kurt Browning, who faces only write-in opposition on the Nov. 6 ballot, from asking outgoing superintendent Heather Fiorentino to forego hiring anyone new in the district office before he takes the reins, as expected.

"My concern is these people that might be taking these empty positions now might be told … come June 30 that we don't have any more to pay them," said Browning, who pledged to reorganize district operations if he defeated Fiorentino in the Aug. 14 primary.

He said he simply was making a "respectful request" with his Friday email, as Fiorentino remains superintendent through Nov. 19 and has a job to do.

"I respect Heather and her position as superintendent. She has every right to fill every position in that office," he said. "I am just hopeful that they won't all be filled."

Fiorentino said she's more than willing to work with Browning on his likely transition into the office, to make it as smooth as possible. Browning even related her offer to let him interview candidates for open jobs. (He declined.)

But when it comes to a hard hiring freeze, Fiorentino said, "I said that can't work."

The district has positions cannot wait to fill, Fiorentino explained. One example she mentioned was purchasing director, a job the School Board promoted Mike Woodall to fill on Tuesday. She said she would evaluate other vacancies, such as Title I federal grant supervisor, as they arise.

"The people gave me the honor to do this job," she said. "I respect that, and I continue to do the job."

That doesn't mean that Fiorentino plans to take any drastic steps, such as giving her staff long-term contracts. That's essentially what she walked into in 2004, when she took over the superintendent's office from retiring John Long.

"I told Kurt, 'I'm not going to mess with you,' " she said, noting that she probably couldn't get such actions past the School Board, anyway. "I care too much about the district."

Board members said they respected both leaders' points of view.

"I can certainly understand why he made the request," board vice chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong said. "But I also understand why the current superintendent has to do what she feels is in the best interest of the students and the school system to keep the district going."

Fiorentino might be able to find other ways to accommodate the changeover, Armstrong suggested.

"She's already working with him on the transition," Armstrong said. "I think they will work together on that."

Board member Steve Luikart viewed the scenario as a delicate balancing act. He said Browning's hands shouldn't be tied as the Nov. 20 swearing in date approaches, but neither should Fiorentino's.

"He has asked to meet with all of the board members individually next week. He wants to discuss the reorganization of the district," Luikart said. "So I understand where he is coming from. We will do everything we can to abide by his wishes."

One area where Browning said he hopes to see Fiorentino act is the leadership of Hudson Middle School.

Fiorentino planned to visit the school this week to learn more about concerns that teachers have raised about principal Terry Holback and her leadership style. A climate survey revealed high levels of discontent at the school.

"If she doesn't deal with it, then I will have to deal with it," Browning said. "They're her schools. They're her people."

Luikart agreed, saying the myriad complaints at Hudson Middle "needed to be resolved last year."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

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