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Hernando School Board debates nepotism, superintendent's contract

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County superintendent Bryan Blavatt's contract clearly states that none of his direct family members are allowed to work in the district.

The concern is one that has plagued Hernando for years: nepotism.

That means no jobs for the teachers in his family — his wife, daughter, son and daughter-in-law — while he's in charge.

But, during a workshop Tuesday, School Board members were sharply divided over whether to keep the stipulation in place as they discussed a contract for incoming superintendent Lori Romano, who was chosen last week to lead Hernando schools when Blavatt retires in June.

Romano's husband, Tim, is also an educator, though she has indicated he will not seek to work in the Hernando school system.

After spending the bulk of the workshop discussing the topic, board members eventually decided to go into contract negotiations with the language remaining as it has been for the previous two superintendents.

But not before a majority of the board expressed an openness to changes.

School Board Vice Chairman Gus Guadagnino was the first to question the need for the antinepotism language in the contract.

"I think that is something that — I don't know how long it has been in there or why it got in there — but I think that is something, in hiring a professional, you would hope they do the right ethical thing," Guadagnino said. "If they don't, you get rid of them."

School Board members Dianne Bonfield and John Sweeney also spoke in support of altering the contract to allow family members to work in the district.

Bonfield suggested the board change the language so a superintendent's family members could work in the district, as long as they weren't administrators.

That means they could be a teacher or a guidance counselor, for example, but not a principal or an assistant principal.

Sweeney liked that idea.

He said it's up to the board to make sure that the superintendent does not inappropriately wield power, or give family members an advantage.

"We evaluate the superintendent yearly," he said. "That's our job. The buck stops here. If there's anything improper … we'll hit (the superintendent) over the head with it."

Board Chairman Matt Foreman, who is part of the district's negotiating team with Romano, spoke out strongly against changing the contract to allow the superintendent's family members to work in the district.

"I think it eliminates a number of potential issues," he said. "And at the end of the day, it's quite possible Dr. Romano is in a position and her spouse is in a position where they say, 'Yeah that's fine.'

"There's nothing lost by asking," he said.

Board member Cynthia Moore sided with Foreman, pointing out that the district does not allow employees to supervise family members in the same school.

"We make them move," Moore said.

When asked by the Tampa Bay Times on Friday, Romano said her husband will not seek a position in the district.

She said she feels strongly that it would be "inappropriate" for him to work in the Hernando schools.

Blavatt said he agreed with Romano on that point and said he would take the policy a step further.

He said he doesn't believe family members of School Board members should be permitted to work in the district.

"I think it's a problem," Blavatt said.

Foreman said he would like to wrap up contract negotiations with Romano as soon as possible, preferably by next week.

Danny Valentine can be reached at dvalentine@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.

Hernando School Board debates nepotism, superintendent's contract 03/19/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 8:19pm]
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