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Dismissing its superintendent early, Hernando County School Board looks for steady leadership

After a School Board vote Thursday to pay about $14,000 to end his contract, superintendent Wayne Alexander thanked members for the experience, then left.

RON THOMPSON | Times

After a School Board vote Thursday to pay about $14,000 to end his contract, superintendent Wayne Alexander thanked members for the experience, then left.

BROOKSVILLE — He's been accused in recent months of nepotism, irresponsible budget recommendations, failing to oversee district staff and being secretive about his efforts to find a new job.

On Thursday, after the School Board voted with little discussion to end his three-year contract nine months early, superintendent Wayne Alexander avoided all of that and uttered just two sentences.

"I will hold back my tears because what I really want to say is thank you to the four of you," Alexander said to the four board members in the room. "This has been a tremendous experience and I will miss all four of you."

With that, he rose and walked quickly out of the board room. He did not return messages later Thursday.

Board member James Yant, who attended the meeting by phone, was the sole dissenter in the 4-1 vote to set Alexander's last day as Sept. 11 and pay him an additional 30 days' worth of salary and benefits on that date.

Yant indicated he could not support the agreement because he believes Alexander breached his contract earlier this year by failing to notify board members that he was looking for a job in New England, where his wife and two stepchildren live.

Still, Yant said he understood the board probably had little legal ground to terminate the contract for cause.

"I'm reluctant in approving this but it appears as though we have no other option," he said, his voice being carried through the board room's speaker system. "We can't say incompetence applies simply because the board gave Dr. Alexander a reasonably good evaluation."

After the vote, Yant struck a conciliatory tone in comments to Alexander.

"Whatever confrontations we've had in the past, I wish you the best in your future endeavors," he said. "There's no animosity I have toward you."

By then, Alexander had already left.

Alexander will receive a check for $14,383.62 after tax deductions, according to School Board attorney Paul Carland. The total cost to the district will be $19,859.45. That includes a portion of a $2,000 stipend the district agreed to pay when Alexander received certification through the Florida Association of District School Superintendents.

The agreement calls the proposal "a mutual decision" on the part of Alexander and the board. His contract was scheduled to end June 30.

"The parties have decided that it's in the best interests of the District, its students and Dr. Alexander and his family to end their professional relationship as reflected herein," the one-page agreement states.

The vote is the culmination of months of eroding support for Alexander.

Board members Yant and Pat Fagan said early this year they had lost faith in Alexander's ability to lead the district. Chairwoman Dianne Bonfield and Sandra Nicholson, who had supported Alexander, changed their minds earlier this month. And board member John Sweeney called Alexander's departure inevitable, though he hasn't publicly criticized him.

Board members were less united on how to fill the vacant position.

After the vote, Bonfield said she took the liberty to contact Edward Poore, a longtime and now retired district employee, who says he's willing to take the job temporarily while the district looks for a permanent replacement. The board had previously approved a timetable to have a successor in place by July 1.

Bonfield said the interim superintendent should not be a current employee but should have knowledge of the district, and should not want the superintendent post on a permanent basis.

She cited the need for an objective eye to oversee an ongoing investigation into how out-of-county students were admitted to Nature Coast Technical High School against district policy, and another inquiry planned into reports that some elementary administrators had tacitly approved a policy not to assign zeros for students' missed work.

Bonfield noted that Poore has been a principal on every school level and has held central office positions, including human resources administrator.

"He could come in and hit the ground running and be a wealth of information for the staff as we bring on board our new superintendent," Bonfield said.

Nicholson agreed that seeking someone from the outside has worked before, though she stopped short of supporting Poore without seeking other candidates.

Fagan and Yant wanted to appoint assistant superintendent Sonya Jackson to the top post, saying she already has up-to-the-minute institutional knowledge.

Bonfield said moving Jackson would leave the district "short at the top." Sweeney tried to strike a middle ground, suggesting Jackson take on interim duties and the board bring in Poore or someone else to assist her.

"Mrs. Jackson appears to be doing a super job," Sweeney said. "I still think we still need two people."

Fagan suggested adding former board member Jim Malcolm and Hernando Beach businesswoman Lisa Hammond to the list of potential candidates, though Fagan hadn't contacted either about the job.

"He knows where were going, what we're doing and what we're going through," Fagan said of Malcolm.

Ultimately, the board agreed to invite Poore, Malcolm, Hammond and any other candidate board members may have in mind to a special meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday to submit resumes and letters of interest for the job.

Jackson said in an interview Thursday that she intends to apply for the superintendent post.

"If I was given the opportunity to be interim superintendent and still have an opportunity to apply for the superintendent position, that would be the way I would go," she said.

Poore could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Hammond, who is already on the superintendent search committee, said she was flattered and would consider the offer to apply, though she said her instinct says she's not a good fit.

"I think the district needs someone who can really hand-hold staff and sort of calm everything down," Hammond said. "The reality is I'm a change agent. I would go in there with the intent to fix or improve things. Knowing how beat up the district feels right now, I think Jim Malcolm would be a really strong leader to go in there and sort of hold things together."

Malcolm, who stepped down in 2008 after 16 years on the board, said he was honored by Fagan's suggestion and that he would think about it over the weekend. He expressed concern that he already draws a pension for his School Board service and his former job as city manager for Brooksville.

Malcolm shares Hammond's assessment of the district's needs and said he would be a "caretaker" who would not make major changes.

"One of the things an interim would not do is shake things up," Malcolm said. "Lord knows there's been a lot of shaking up lately and what the district needs is smooth sailing."

Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

Dismissing its superintendent early, Hernando County School Board looks for steady leadership 08/27/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 27, 2009 7:53pm]
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