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Hernando superintendent's failed job search leaves district hanging

BROOKSVILLE — A Connecticut judge may help to determine whether the Hernando County School Board must find a new leader this spring.

And that court is unlikely to provide much help to superintendent Wayne Alexander in his bid to remain in Florida, according to an expert on Connecticut family law.

Last month, Alexander told the board he hoped to remain in Hernando indefinitely, but was seeking work in New England due to a visitation dispute involving his new wife's children there. The job search was nothing more than a legal effort to relocate his new wife and two children to Florida, he said.

"If offered a position in (New England,) we will again revisit the courts to argue that nothing compares to my current position or to my current community and all that it has to offer my family," he told the board in a letter.

But Connecticut law rarely supports requests to relocate children out of state over the objections of a biological parent, said Carolyn Wilkes Kaas, a professor at Quinnipiac University School of Law in Connecticut and director of the family and juvenile law program.

"The court's primary concern is going to be what's best for these kids," she said. "You're talking about moving the children away from a parent. That's huge. (The judge's focus) is not about what it will do for the stepdad's career."

Alexander, 48, arrived in Hernando in the summer of 2007 and quickly launched a far-reaching reorganization of the school system.

He married a year later to a schoolteacher in New London, Conn., where he had previously worked. But it was her 2006 divorce — and an acrimonious fight last summer over whether she could move her 6- and 8-year-old children to join Alexander in Florida — that prompted him to launch a new job search after less than two years here.

Alexander said Friday that he remains committed to bringing his new family to Hernando.

"I think you should battle for your family," he added. "You've got to fight the good fight, and we're going to keep on doing that."

But board members Pat Fagan and James Yant have voiced concerns that the district might be put at a disadvantage if forced to wait until late spring or summer in the event they must find a new superintendent.

Other members weren't as eager to discuss the situation before Alexander's future is known. They acknowledged, however, that even January is late to be starting a superintendent search, when many districts with openings are already culling resumes and interviewing favored candidates.

"Ideally, you'd like to have a year, (but) we don't live in an ideal world," said Sandra Nicholson. "We have done an interim (superintendent) before. It's better than rushing into something."

With administrative ranks already thinned by a restructuring this year, waiting until May or June to pick an internal candidate as interim superintendent could be disruptive and create other hard-to-fill openings, said Joe Vitalo, president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association.

"The issue right now is we're thin," he said. "We don't have time to hire someone, and it creates another gap."

Court documents show Alexander's then-fiancee announced plans last May to relocate her children to Florida.

Within a month, her former husband signaled his intention to fight that effort, filing papers seeking primary custody of the children.

He said it was "not in the best interest of the children to be removed from the state of Connecticut for any reason, given that they have a close, daily, ongoing relationship with their father."

In a July 14 agreement, his ex-wife withdrew her request to move the children, saying she would not relocate to Florida without the court's authority.

She married Alexander on Aug. 2 in New London.

As recently as Jan. 12, as Alexander was awaiting word on his unsuccessful bid to lead the Framingham (Mass.) Public Schools, his new wife and her ex-husband modified their visitation agreement.

Under that plan, the children will continue to see their father on a weekly basis.

Under Connecticut family law, said Kaas of Quinnipiac, a parent who wishes to relocate children out of state and far from the other parent must prove "at every level" that such a move is in the children's best interests. State law normally favors allowing children regular access to both parents, she said.

And the existence of a visitation plan suggests these children have an ongoing relationship with their biological father and aren't estranged from him. Maintaining that relationship is generally a far more important factor under the law than the question of whether their stepfather must accept a demotion or loss of status, Kaas said.

If Alexander were facing unemployment or a steep loss of income in moving to Connecticut, that might sway a judge, she added.

But that could be a hard argument to make since he has previously worked in schools there and is certified to hold both administrative and teaching jobs. So he might be forced to choose between keeping his job in Hernando or living with his family.

"The judge might say you can't get as good a job in Connecticut, but you can always get one," Kaas said. "I do not believe a judge is going to move kids (to Florida) when there are reasonable alternatives."

Alexander said he was aware of the legal challenges. And he acknowledged the public's right to know how an uncertain and "constantly changing" situation might affect the school district.

"I love my job, I love the state of Florida, I love where I'm living, and I love my wife and stepkids," Alexander said. "Those things are definite."

Correspondent Kristi Ceccarossi contributed to this report. Tom Marshall can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431.

Hernando superintendent's failed job search leaves district hanging 01/24/09 [Last modified: Saturday, January 24, 2009 1:18pm]
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