BROOKSVILLE — Pat Fagan is back in the chairman's seat for the Hernando School Board, though the process to pick him got a little awkward Tuesday night.
Dianne Bonfield, who had been chairwoman until giving up the position in September because she refused to sign interim superintendent Sonya Jackson's contract, nominated current chairman John Sweeney.
Sweeney had taken on the role on an interim basis after Bonfield stepped aside.
"As he came to be chairperson in a most unusual way for this board and because he was vice chair, he deserves to be chairperson for this next year," Bonfield told her fellow board members.
But board member James Yant nominated Fagan.
When it came time to vote, Bonfield, of course, voted for Sweeney. So did Sweeney.
Board member Sandra Nicholson joined Yant in voting for Fagan. So did Fagan.
Fagan, who is a year into his second term and served as chairman three years ago, thanked the board for the vote and thanked Sweeney for filling in for Bonfield.
"Thanks, Pat," replied Sweeney, who just started the last year of his first term. "I know you've done a great job in the past and I expect nothing less."
Fagan took over the meeting and proceeded to flub the wording of an agenda item and then needed some coaching on procedure to pick a vice chairman.
"I'm a little nervous, so forgive me," Fagan said. "It's been a while."
"It's like riding a bicycle," Sweeney quipped.
Sweeney then nominated Nicholson, by far the longest serving board member, for vice chairwoman. There were no other nominations, and the vote for Nicholson was unanimous.
On Wednesday, Fagan said he was caught off guard by Yant's nomination but realized in the moments before the vote that he could keep the board on track as it tackles a myriad of big issues in the coming year.
"My goal, and the reason I decided to accept it, is we need to open up more what's going on in the school district," Fagan said. "We need better communication not only with administrators but also with our teachers and our parents."
Fagan also acknowledged that the chairman's role is to approve workshop and regular meeting schedules, and that also played a part in his decision.
He cited a disagreement with Sweeney during Tuesday's workshop about when the board would meet with staff and an advisory committee of parents and community members to discuss the future of the district's gifted student program.
The board agreed in September to put the issue on a Dec. 8 workshop agenda, but Fagan learned that Sweeney had pushed that to February. Sweeney explained Tuesday that he thought it best to first hear from the district's new committee charged with recommending new magnet admission procedure policies. The magnet admission is on a more pressing deadline, Sweeney said.
The board ultimately agreed to discuss the gifted program on Dec. 10.
Fagan said he was concerned the discussion on the gifted program had already been pushed back a couple of times. He said he would be more collaborative with the board when making such moves.
"I don't think it's my decision to say things are going to change without the board changing," Fagan said. "The chair is there to lead the board in the right direction and not, shall I say, be the boss. They're elected just like I am, and I feel I can do that."
Told of Fagan's comments, Sweeney acknowledged the flow of information throughout the district, whether it's from district staff to the board or from the board to parents, could use improvement.
Fagan said he wasn't thinking Tuesday night about the fact that Sweeney might be running for re-election this year, a potential distraction for a board chairman.
Sweeney, however, said he had considered that. He has not committed or filed early with the elections office.
Being free of the chairman's duties, he said, "will free up some time if that's where I go."
Tony Marrero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1431.