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Hernando County school facilities chief, others to lose jobs

BROOKSVILLE — He oversaw construction of two Hernando County schools worth around $86 million, with two new schools worth at least $88 million more on the way.

But district facilities director Roland "Bo" Bavota won't get to finish those jobs. He learned this week that his annual contract won't be renewed next fall.

He said it all comes down to a $66,915 pulper machine he signed for at J.D. Floyd Elementary, and a long-simmering dispute with his boss, superintendent Wayne Alexander.

"He wanted to not put the pulper unit in and put in a trash compactor," Bavota said Thursday, referring to their argument over trash machines at the school. "If you don't do what he says and you're not one of his buddies, you're in trouble."

He was one of several district employees who lost their jobs this week as part of the superintendent's efforts to trim the district budget and reorganize staff.

That tempest in a school kitchen resulted in Alexander suspending Bavota without pay for three days last December. The pay was later returned and the charge reduced to a letter of reprimand.

Bavota said he did nothing more than sign an invoice for an item that the district was already under contract to purchase. But district documents show Alexander considered that signature an act of defiance.

"Several weeks ago I told you not to make this purchase," Alexander wrote on Dec. 18. "You informed me that there would be a cost to cancel this order and return it to the shelf. My response to you at that time was that it would be fine. Your decision to purchase the pulper/extractor constitutes gross insubordination."

Alexander couldn't be reached for comment Thursday on Bavota's dismissal, but School Board member Sandra Nicholson said it had nothing to do with trash machines.

"The big reason is the money," she said. "More people are going to be doing more jobs. Bo might not think so, but that is the real crux of the thing."

But Bavota said the dispute was one of several instances in which Alexander asked him to make purchasing or contract decisions without proper authority.

"He comes to me from time to time and says, 'Do this,' " Bavota said. " 'I say, 'No, I've got to go to the board. I'm not going to do anything that's immoral, unethical or illegal. That's not in my makeup. And I don't want to go to jail.' "

Board member James Yant said he opposed the decision to dismiss Bavota, calling him an effective and personable employee.

"I think there were some issues there that couldn't be worked out, personal rather than professional," he added. "That's not a good reason to not reappoint someone."

Several board members said maintenance director Ken Hill was likely to assume responsibility for construction projects next fall.

Bavota, 61, said he was preparing to retire in a few years, and wasn't worried about losing his $81,000 salary.

But he said he was concerned about the potential for the district to lose control of spending on a high school and K-8 complex slated to open off U.S. 19 and Hexam Road beginning in 2010.

"I feel bad about that," Bavota said. "I don't know how they're going to manage it."

He arrived in the district in 2004, after a career building ships and serving as a construction manager for Sunoco. His bosses lavished praise on him in reference letters.

"High flexibility, tireless, dedicated," said contract administrator Kurt A. Menkes. "Does not suffer fools."

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

Hernando County school facilities chief, others to lose jobs 04/02/09 [Last modified: Thursday, April 2, 2009 8:55pm]
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