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Hernando superintendent applies for Osceola job as debate continues over her evaluation

Hernando County School District Superintendent Lori Romano during a School Board meeting in 2014. Romano has applied to be Osceola County's superintendent amid strained contract negotiations with the Hernando board. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]

Hernando County School District Superintendent Lori Romano during a School Board meeting in 2014. Romano has applied to be Osceola County's superintendent amid strained contract negotiations with the Hernando board. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando school superintendent Lori Romano has made good on her recent pledge to apply for other jobs, submitting an application to be superintendent in Osceola County, a position that would mean a pay raise of at least $65,000.

That prompted School Board Chairman Gus Guadagnino, Romano's most vocal supporter on the board, to urge his colleagues during an informal meeting Tuesday to wrap up the negotiation of her new contract as quickly as possible.

"I never thought that this position would make me sick, but it's working on my stomach big time," Guadagnino said.

We "have the best superintendent that is needed for this district, and I have to send out letters of recommendation. ... People in the education industry know exactly what we have here, and I don't want them to snatch her away."

But other board members pushed back, pointing out the obstacles in extending Romano's contract and offering the substantial raise from her current base salary of $120,000 that likely would be needed to retain her.

The obstacles include changing the job description — now listing $130,000 as the top end of the salary range — which requires public notice and hearings that would add about a month to the process, said board member Matt Foreman, who is helping to negotiate the contract.

Also, a majority of the board previously had backed the idea of an evaluation for Romano that would include surveys of school employees — an idea discussed by a facilitator in a training session held by the Florida School Boards Association this summer.

"Before we get into the final stages of negotiation, there are three board members who said we need to get through this," Foreman said. "And we need to get through this."

Board member Susan Duval, who had been assigned to research the surveys for the rest of board, produced two examples commonly used in other states.

"This is not original. I did not create this," Duval said. "It came from the National Association of School Superintendents and the National School Boards Association. It was their combined effort to create an evaluation instrument."

The surveys allow school district employees to rate a superintendent's work on leadership, vision and ability to put a vision into practice.

The district has the technology to send the questionnaires out immediately and keep the results confidential, Duval said. Board members would use the information to help evaluate Romano and decide whether to extend her contract, which ends July 1, and, if so, how much to pay her.

"This provides us with information at the ground level," Foreman said.

Romano said she liked the idea but objected to some of the questions, such as whether she used legal counsel appropriately or whether she follows state and federal policy.

Teachers and many other employees "are just not going to know some of these things," she said.

She instead argued for a questionnaire used as part of the district's accreditation process last school year. This would give the board the added advantage of being able to compare results from two years.

Board member Beth Narverud said, however, that those questions were focused on the schools, not specifically on the superintendent's performance.

Romano then suggested that the two be combined, or "crosswalked," and that she would bring the results back to the board.

Guadagnino said afterward that he is still frustrated by the delays but glad Romano will have input into the survey process.

Narverud said she was not comfortable with Romano having complete control and sent a letter asking that Duval be included when the documents are merged. She also said she objected to Guadagnino coming out so forcefully on Romano's side and for being willing to bypass the full evaluation process.

"I don't like being pushed into a corner like that," she said after the meeting. "And I think the chairman was right with her, and I didn't like that."

Guadagnino said he just does not want to lose Romano. Her application in Osceola — a substantially larger district south of Orlando where the superintendent's salary range is from $185,000 to $225,000 a year — was received shortly before the deadline Friday, according to documents from Osceola.

She is one of 37 applicants, several of whom are current superintendents. Her credentials also include a doctorate and several years spent working at the state Department of Education.

"I just don't like it that she's hanging out there as a ripe cherry asking to be plucked," Guadagnino said.

Contact Dan DeWitt at ddewitt@tampabay.com; follow @ddewitttimes.

Hernando superintendent applies for Osceola job as debate continues over her evaluation 11/04/15 [Last modified: Thursday, November 5, 2015 4:38pm]
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