BROOKSVILLE — Since her election last fall, Hernando School Board member Cynthia Moore has been anything but shy about inserting her Mississippi drawl into debates with her fellow board members.
Now the 69-year-old retired teacher has the gavel, too.
The five-member board voted unanimously Tuesday to have Moore serve as chairwoman for the next school year, and for Matt Foreman to serve as vice chairman. That means the board's two newest members are now its leaders.
Foreman nominated Moore for the post. Outgoing Chairman James Yant then nominated veteran member John Sweeney. Yant noted, though, that he did so primarily because he believes there should be at least one other nominee.
Sweeney said he was honored but supported Moore.
"I think Cynthia would be a fantastic board chair," Sweeney said.
He then nominated Foreman for vice chairman.
The votes honor a generally held tradition for board members to take turns in the chairperson's seat. Sweeney and member Dianne Bonfield have also held the position.
"I hope I can do half the job that you did," Moore told Yant.
Short in stature — her face sometimes obscured by her laptop computer when she sits behind the dais — Moore has worked in the district for more than 40 years as a teacher, administrator and now a volunteer at Brooksville Elementary. She won the District 5 seat in a tight runoff against incumbent Sandra Nicholson.
Gov. Rick Scott in September appointed Foreman, an attorney at the Hogan Law Firm, to take the District 2 seat left vacant by the resignation of Pat Fagan.
Elected in 2008 to his first four-year term, Yant held the gavel during one of the most difficult rounds of budget-cutting in recent memory. The board was hamstrung during that process because it took Scott six months to choose Fagan's replacement.
The chairperson's vote doesn't carry any more weight than those of other members, but the position does come with added responsibility and influence.
The chairperson works with superintendent Bryan Blavatt to set workshop and meeting agendas, then moderates debate during both. The chairperson also acts as the board liaison during contract negotiations with the superintendent and general counsel. That became a big job for Bonfield in 2009 when she represented the board during talks to craft superintendent Wayne Alexander's exit deal.
Moore will lead negotiations in the coming months as the board works to hire a new attorney.
She has developed a reputation for preparing for workshops and meetings by combing through staff reports and other backup material. She lives in Brooksville not far from district headquarters and visits with Blavatt once a week. "She's easily accessible and has good communication skills," Blavatt said.
"I'm excited about it," Moore said after the meeting. "I think we'll all work together as a team this year."
That will be critical as the board considers the district's 2012-13 budget. "I think we're going to have a tighter budget than we have now," she said.
On some occasions during her tenure as chairwoman, Bonfield recalled Tuesday, she failed to voice her own opinion because she was so focused on making sure her fellow board members got the chance to speak.
Moore said she isn't worried about that.
"Y'all have found out I'll state my opinion," she said. "After everybody has had their say, I will have my say. I'm just that type of person."
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Connect with him on Facebook by searching for "Hernando Education Beat - Tampa Bay Times."