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Hernando school official to pursue legal options after she said she was wrongfully let go

BROOKSVILLE — A former employee said she is pursuing legal options after the Hernando County School Board on Tuesday night approved the superintendent's recommendation to appoint another person as director of student services.

Mary-Grace Surrena, who had been with the district for more than 23 years, held that position for eight months before superintendent Bryan Blavatt decided not to reappoint her in May.

Blavatt said he offered Surrena a position as a school psychologist, a job she held in the past, but that she did not like the terms of the appointment.

Surrena had been groomed for years to take over the director position from Jim Knight, who retired last year.

On Tuesday, Knight spoke out against Surrena's being passed over in favor of Felita Lott, whom he said doesn't meet the job requirements.

Knight, a 21-year veteran of the job, said Surrena had received nothing but excellent or outstanding evaluations on the job.

"I have never known of one administrator in this district that was demoted in less than one year," he said. "Prior to tonight, all were given a year to improve or placed in a different school or in a similar position."

He called on the board to request an investigation. He also asked the School Board not to approve Lott's appointment, saying she does not have a required certification for the job.

"I'm asking you tonight to do what is right and what is fair for an employee who has given so much to Hernando County schools," he said.

The board voted 3-2 to approve the superintendent's recommendations for appointments.

Board members James Yant and Dianne Bonnfield voted against the recommendations. Bonnfield's vote against the recommendations was due to an unrelated issue involving a school principal who she said didn't follow district policy.

In a letter to the School Board and Blavatt, a lawyer for Surrena claims that her client was wrongfully not reappointed and was discriminated against because of her gender.

The letter states that Blavatt said Surrena was "too nice" for the position and that "there was a perception out there that she was too soft," according to the letter from attorney Karen Gaffney.

A similar letter from Gaffney was sent on behalf of Fox Chapel Middle School principal Barbara Kidder.

Kidder says she suffered from a number of instances of gender discrimination and a hostile work environment because of Blavatt. The letter claims Blavatt told numerous people he wanted a "male presence" at Fox Chapel Middle School.

Blavatt has denied he discriminated, noting that the person taking Surrena's job is a woman.

At the end of Tuesday's meeting, he indirectly addressed the issue.

"You have to make hard decisions and decisions that are not going to be popular and viewed in different ways," he said. "Let me say to you that it is the most difficult part of my job to make decisions I know will impact individuals. But I will not stray from the mission."

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

In other business

The Hernando School Board on Tuesday night:

• Voted 4-1 to approve a resolution to gradually increase the price of school lunches over three years. Lunch prices at the elementary and secondary level will increase 10 cents next year. A 2010 law requires districts to charge enough that the revenue from students who pay for their lunches is sufficient to cover the cost for those who receive free or reduced-price meals. That means the Hernando district must raise the elementary lunch price by 30 cents, to $2, and the middle and high school lunch price by a quarter, to $2.25.

•Honored 98 retiring Hernando school system employees who have a combined 1,757 years of combined service in the district.

>>fast facts

Cost of school lunches to go up gradually

In other business, the Hernando School Board did the following Tuesday night:

• Voted 4-1 to approve a resolution to gradually increase the price of school lunches over three years. Lunch prices at the elementary and secondary levels will increase 10 cents next year. A 2010 law requires districts to charge enough that the revenue from students who pay for their lunches is sufficient to cover the cost for those who receive free or reduced-price meals. That means the Hernando district must raise the elementary lunch price by 30 cents, to $2, and raise the middle and high school lunch price by a quarter, to $2.25.

• Honored 98 retiring Hernando school system employees who have 1,757 years of combined service in the district.

Hernando school official to pursue legal options after she said she was wrongfully let go 06/20/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 20, 2012 6:37pm]
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