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Hernando School Board gives reluctant nod to superintendent's reorganization plan

BROOKSVILLE — It took four tries over the course of two years, but Hernando's school chief is finally on the verge of changing the district office's organizational chart to his liking.

Four of five School Board members on Tuesday gave informal approval to superintendent Bryan Blavatt's restructuring plan. The primary component, as with two of the past plans, is the addition of a second assistant superintendent.

"We hired a superintendent to put us on track for years to come," board member John Sweeney said during the afternoon workshop. "We want to leave the district better than we found it, and structurally I think this does that."

As he did during his previous attempts, Blavatt emphasized that the district office is understaffed, consistently ranking at or near the bottom in expenditures for administration. He noted the office has lost 17 staffers since 2007. He passed around a list of similar-size districts that have at least two assistant superintendents.

With ever-increasing mandates from the state and federal governments, "we've now reached that point where we're almost incapable of covering just the requirements," Blavatt said.

The second assistant would also provide another step in the career ladder for aspiring superintendents, he said.

In the latest plan, one assistant superintendent would oversee a division of teaching and learning that includes the schools and principals, instructional services, the technology and Hernando Instructional Television department, and adult and community education.

The other would lead a division of student support services, including exceptional student education, transportation, facilities, maintenance, and safety and security.

The superintendent would oversee a department of school improvement to include federal programs, professional development and school assessment. Putting those critical areas directly under the superintendent's supervision is a key component of the plan in an era of data-driven accountability, Blavatt said.

The second assistant would be paid about $96,000 and cost the district an additional $26,000 for benefits. The overall plan, though, would save nearly $24,000, in part by eliminating two vacant positions — a maintenance personnel specialist and a purchasing assistant.

The rest of the savings would be a result of paying lower salaries to new hires who will replace veteran employees retiring from the positions of transportation director and Weeki Wachee High School principal, and by moving a lower-paid teacher into Weeki Wachee's vacant assistant principal's position.

The tentative approval came with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Board member Dianne Bonfield called the structure a "good concept," but asked Blavatt to seek both in-house and external candidates for the assistant superintendent's job. Blavatt said he would, and that a committee would likely screen applicants before he made the final decision.

"People who have agendas make reorganizations and make structures, and we can feel those vibrations for year after year after year," Bonfield said. "It's very important and very judicious on the part of the School Board … that we consider the ramifications that may come from it."

Chairwoman Cynthia Moore, a full-time volunteer at Brooksville Elementary School, said teachers don't understand how the board can justify adding another administrator when school budgets are so tight.

"I've tried to explain to them that it's not going to cost any more money," Moore said. "They don't understand this because they're having to pay for more and more and more in the classroom."

Vice Chairman Matt Foreman said he was "underwhelmed" by the plan's savings.

"I think if you're breaking even, you're doing fine," Blavatt replied.

Board member James Yant, the lone board member to outright oppose the plan, didn't put much stock in the comparison of districts, saying he worried that Hernando's student population will shrink in the coming years, reducing funding from the state.

"From an economics perspective, we have to look at what's happening," he said. "I just don't see the available funding and the growth needed to support this decision."

The plan still must garner formal approval through an official vote at a regular board meeting. If that happens, Blavatt has said he hopes to have the position filled by midsummer.

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

Hernando School Board gives reluctant nod to superintendent's reorganization plan 04/17/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 17, 2012 7:26pm]
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