BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County School Board is leaving nothing to chance in filling the key job of finance director.
With two candidates still in the running for a second round of interviews Tuesday, the board sweetened the pot, boosting the starting salary to $78,676, closer to the amount paid to former director Deborah Bruggink.
Last week, board members were fretting over the lack of qualified applicants to replace Bruggink, who left the district for a position in Alabama. While several had experience in school finance offices, none had held the top job.
Members said the weak response might have something to do with the district's advertised salary range for the job, $66,572 to $75,650, well below last year's state average of $92,568 for finance directors.
They said they would be willing to pay more for the right candidate, saying even highly experienced private-sector professionals usually don't have the specialized knowledge of public school finance.
On Tuesday, three of five board members backed the idea of creating the separate category of chief financial officer on the salary scale, and offering nearly as much as the $79,715 veteran Bruggink earned in her final year.
"I thought by adding to the salary, it would attract more of the (types of) people we are looking for," said member James Yant.
He said it would be a mistake to hire someone without deep knowledge and experience handling the complex state and federal regulations governing public school finance.
"It's not one of those positions you can be too flexible with," Yant added. "If you get the wrong person, they can cause you some major, major problems."
Chairwoman Dianne Bonfield voted against the measure, saying there was no sense in raising the salary when the district was "close to a hire." Member Sandra Nicholson also cast a negative vote.
"I think I would want it to happen in the future," Bonfield said, referring to the salary upgrade. "But considering the financial crisis we're in, I cannot justify increasing the salary for this position at this time."
It would be up to superintendent Wayne Alexander whether to reopen the search to more applicants.
He is scheduled next week to interview the two remaining candidates — Harold Proverbs, supervisor of finance for the Hendry County schools, and Desiree Henegar, assistant budget director for the Sarasota County schools.
Another candidate from the Pasco County schools dropped out, citing salary concerns.
Tom Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1431.