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Cathi Martin resigns from Pasco County School Board

NEW PORT RICHEY — Cathi Martin won't wait for Gov. Charlie Crist to decide whether to remove her from the Pasco County School Board.

In a late-night e-mail Thursday, she announced her plan to resign.

"Due to ongoing health issues, I feel that I will be unable to finish my term. ... Effective at the convenience of the superintendent and governor, I will resign my office," Martin wrote to her fellow board members and superintendent Heather Fiorentino.

She signed off, "Catherine E. Martin, Formerly District 3."

Martin, a Democrat who won her third term in 2006, faced mounting pressure to leave the board in the past week because of her chronic absences. The latest on March 3 caused a delay in a teacher disciplinary hearing. Three Republican members of Pasco's powerful legislative delegation, including future House speaker Will Weatherford and the current second-in-command in the Senate, Mike Fasano, asked Gov. Crist to remove her if she did not leave voluntarily.

As the drumbeat for her ouster grew, Martin, 53, withdrew from the public eye even further. She did not communicate with others on the board, the superintendent's office or the board's lawyer. She didn't return repeated calls from reporters or answer the door at her home near Trinity.

She let stand her comment from the day of the March 3 meeting, where the board also fired a teacher for missing too many days of class: "I don't think it's keeping me from doing my job."

Upon further reflection, Martin changed her mind. Pasco has not had a board member leave office early in 17 years.

Word of Martin's pending resignation quickly spread through the school district early Friday. Along with it came questions.

When will the decision take effect? Will Martin come to any more board meetings? Who will replace her?

School Board attorney Dennis Alfonso said Martin made clear her intent to resign immediately upon the governor's receipt of her letter. She does not plan to attend any future board sessions, he said.

Sterling Ivey, spokesman for the governor's office, said once Crist receives the letter, the appointments office will accept applications, interview candidates and appoint someone to serve the remainder of Martin's term, which expires in 2010.

The name that emerged most quickly as a possible replacement was Michele Chamberlin, a Republican who took 46.75 percent of the vote against Martin in November 2006.

Chamberlin, a career specialist at Mitchell High School, was filling out the governor's application form when reached mid-morning Friday.

"I love working with the students every day,'' she said. "But this is an opportunity to do something for the whole district."

Another name that surfaced was lawyer and Republican activist Jeff Lucas.

County political leaders said it was too early to know who might take Martin's position, noting her resignation was not yet official. They expected to have input with the governor at the right time.

In the meantime, they all praised Martin for her service and her choice to resign.

"We obviously are thinking of her and praying for her," said Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. "But she couldn't fulfill her duties. I'm glad she made the right decision."

He and others rejected suggestions that they had partisan motivations. Martin was the School Board's sole registered Democrat.

"We do a lot of politically motivated issues at times," said state Rep. John Legg, R-New Port Richey. "This one, without a doubt, was not. ... It's just that schools have so many issues they're dealing with right now. We need governance."

Legg had raised concerns about Martin's ability to serve in the past. He proposed a bill in 2008 to allow voters to recall School Board members after a previous string of Martin absences that had residents calling for her ouster.

Martin had missed more than half the board meetings in the months immediately following her 2006 re-election, and then a spate of meetings in late 2007.

Between those two sets of missed meetings, Martin offered a weepy eight-minute explanation for her spotty attendance. Among her reasons were knee surgery with complications, her son's illness, the death of her dog and a car accident.

Since that time, she had suffered a seizure, had problems with high blood pressure and continued knee troubles, which she said caused her to fall on her way to the March 3 meeting she never made.

Martin first won election in 1998, replacing long-time board member Dorothy Mitchell. Before joining the board, Martin served on several district task forces and had served as a PTA president and school advisory committee chairwoman.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Fast facts

What others are saying:

"The School Board has continued to watch out for the best interest of the students and the taxpayers of Pasco County. That will not change."

Allen Altman, School Board vice chairman

"We wish her well in her health issues. That's our ultimate concern. ... This board is going to be a busy beaver once we get (the latest budget) numbers, and it's important we have a full board."

Frank Parker, School Board chairman

"It's a tough decision that she had to make, but I believe it's the right one. ... All she needed to do was show up, and she couldn't even do that. Regardless of party affiliation, that person should not be serving."

State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey

"Mrs. Martin has been in office 11 years and has served the students and the teachers well. Recently her health has caused her a lot of problems. We wish her well."

Superintendent Heather Fiorentino

Fast facts

Martin's resignation e-mail

From: Cathi Martin

To: Heather Fiorentino

Sent: Thu Mar 12 20:18:13 2009

Subject: Resignation Catherine Martin

Mrs. Fiorentino:

I wish to apologize to my supporters that, due to on going health issues, I feel that I will be unable to finish my term. I have always known the importance of my responsibility as a school board member.

I wasn't elected as a CPA, attorney, a Doctorate of Education, or a developer. I was elected as a concerned parent to represent the parents, children and teachers of Pasco County. I hope that my replacement could continue this representation and avoid special interest groups.

So, effective at the convenience of the superintendent and governor, I will resign my office.

Sincerely,

Catherine E. Martin

Formerly District 3

Cathi Martin resigns from Pasco County School Board 03/13/09 [Last modified: Saturday, March 14, 2009 7:11am]
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