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Hernando school superintendent blasts School Board as "dysfunctional'

BROOKSVILLE — Back off or fire me.

Hernando school superintendent Bryan Blavatt put it that plainly Thursday at the end of a nearly three-hour special meeting fraught with tough personnel and budget-cutting decisions.

The School Board, Blavatt said, was overstepping the boundaries of the relationship between a governing body that sets policy and the chief executive hired to implement that policy.

"Your oversight has gone beyond oversight and into micromanaging and it's impossible for me to function as a superintendent," Blavatt said as room full of district staffers, principals and community members sat in rapt attention.

"All I'm asking is fire me or let me do my job," he said.

Another problem, Blavatt said: The board is failing in its effort to take strong stances and stick with them, opting instead to "recycle" issues that have already been decided.

"I believe in my heart, and please understand this is not personally directed at any of you ... that this is the most dysfunctional, nonproductive, counterproductive group of individuals I've ever seen in 40 years," he said.

The speech came after the board, which is still waiting for Gov. Rick Scott to appoint someone to fill its vacant fifth seat, rejected Blavatt's third effort to reorganize the district office.

The move would have eliminated some positions and added others, including a second assistant superintendent who would oversee a Division of Teaching and Learning. The division would include the departments overseeing school improvement, curriculum, federal programs and professional development.

Overall, the plan would have saved about $42,000 for the 2011-2012 budget year and about $71,000 each year after that. Blavatt has warned the board that the district office is severely understaffed and needs to be restructured

Chairman James Yant said he couldn't support a reorganization that relied so heavily on federal grant funding that will probably dry up. Member Dianne Bonfield said she didn't understand why Blavatt's first plan eliminated the district's lone assistant superintendent and this one adds another. And board member Cynthia Moore said she could only support the addition of three positions funded and required by the Race to the Top grant.

In the end, the board approved just those positions.

Only member John Sweeney, supported the plan, noting that it saves money and comes with Blavatt's urging.

"So to me, it's incumbent upon this board to approve it," Sweeney said.

Earlier in the meeting, Blavatt grew increasingly frustrated when the board appeared ready to balk on a consensus reached in budget workshops this month to cut bus service for students who live within two miles of school.

Later, board members hesitated to vote against personnel recommendations that included the non-reappointments of two longtime administrators.

Former Deltona Elementary principal Betty Harper has filed a discrimination complaint after being reassigned to an assistant principal post at West Hernando Middle.

Former Powell Middle school assistant principal Joy Greene and her attorney both asked the board during the public comment portion of the meeting to reconsider Blavatt's recommendation to let her go. Greene said she made clear efforts to improve her performance and the district did not follow proper procedure for her evaluation.

The board can only reject appointments, not non-reappointments, board attorney Paul Meeker said. In the end, the board voted 3 to 1 to approve the recommendations, with Yant dissenting.

Yant, sitting just to Blavatt's right, said he thought the superintendent was capable of doing the job and would not vote to fire him if such a motion were made. But Blavatt needs to do better at keeping the board informed on big issues, especially during the budget process, Yant said.

"We're asking as a board to be informed of certain things, just a general idea of what's happening," he said.

Bonfield agreed.

"If I didn't get a newspaper I wouldn't know what was going on," Bonfield said. "I take it very personally when you don't come to us to find out what our priorities are. I think that says something."

Bonfield also repeated to Blavatt what she has said publicly in the past: This board takes an active role.

"The experience you had may have been with boards of education that blamed you for what was going on," she said. "We're accountable. I'll take the buck stopping at my desk for some of these things."

Board members raised similar concerns during Blavatt's evaluation process in May but gave him good marks overall.

Sweeney said he was comfortable with the level of communication he has with Blavatt. Moore agreed.

"I call Mr. Blavatt and he'll know I won't always take his side, but board members have to take more responsibility to find out what's going on," she said.

Blavatt came out of retirement to take the job in Hernando in April of last year. He'd previously served for 12 years as superintendent of schools in Boone County, Ky.

The board overlooked two internal finalists to tap Blavatt, citing his experience and success in Kentucky. His contract ends in June, 2013.

During a career that spans four decades and four states, Blavatt has never quit a job.

"My intent is not to quit, my intent is to do what's right for kids, and you guys aren't letting me do it," he told the board.

Asked by the St. Petersburg Times after the meeting if he would consider resigning, however, Blavatt seemed to leave the door open for that option.

"I have a commitment. I feel a responsibility," he said. "But by the same token I have to consider my own well-being and the ability to do my job. Nobody stays in a job when they're not able to do what they were hired to do."

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

Hernando school superintendent blasts School Board as "dysfunctional' 06/30/11 [Last modified: Thursday, June 30, 2011 9:25pm]

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