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James Yant will leave school board with some disappointment

SPRING HILL — James Yant paused for a moment as he thought about his tenure on the Hernando County School Board.

The question before him was a simple, obvious one for any outgoing elected official: What did you accomplish?

"I'm trying to think," the 66-year-old Yant began. "I made the suggestion regarding the security at the board meetings."

There was also, he noted, his procedural suggestion to limit responses from the board and superintendent after citizen comments at meetings. Again, he had safety concerns.

And that's what he came up with.

After four years on the School Board, Yant said recently he doesn't feel like he was able to accomplish a whole lot.

"I don't know very much that transpired during my term that I suggested," he said from his home in Spring Hill. "You know, I made suggestions. Hopefully, if it's not too late, some of the things may come back.

"But when I think back — I'm looking back — and I really don't see very much."

• • •

Yant has always been clear about why he ran for a seat on the School Board.

The longtime State Farm Insurance agent wanted to bring a business perspective to the board.

He thought that if Hernando was recognized as having a premier educational system — the best in the country, in fact — high-level jobs and companies would flock to the area.

"It's business development," he said.

So that was his goal. His vision. His mind-set.

But that never came to pass.

"I didn't see where the mind-set was 'Why can't we be No. 1 in the United States?' " he said.

He said it became difficult to focus on big issues while the board battled little ones.

"If you're constantly having to be declined for this, declined for that or be declined for other things, you really don't have time to focus on some of the proactive kind of things that you really need to," he said.

He remembered being on the losing side of a number of important votes, saying most ideas he introduced were voted down.

Yant voted against moving forward with the construction of Winding Waters K-8 School in 2009, saying it would add another recurring expense in a time of financial turmoil. He instead favored using existing space in other schools.

He opposed adding a second assistant superintendent position, although he is a big supporter of Ken Pritz, the man who eventually got the job.

Yant has always been a staunch proponent of hiring superintendents from within the district. He ranked both Pritz and Sonya Jackson above the board's eventual choice, Bryan Blavatt, in 2010.

In workshops and board meetings, Yant always questioned the motivations of outside applicants.

"If a person is a superintendent in another location, why would they leave where they are if they are doing so well and come to Hernando County?" he said.

As Blavatt prepares to retire in 2013, it is important, Yant says, to hire someone who understands the county's dynamics and power structure.

But on this and other issues, Yant isn't sure his different way of thinking ever sank in.

"I offered everything that I could," he said. "Made the suggestions. And it appears as though the district wanted to go in a different direction."

• • •

Yant took over in a tumultuous time for the school district.

The economy was faltering. There were budget cuts. Shrinking enrollment.

And, most importantly, there was the demise of then-superintendent Wayne Alexander, whose brief tenure was so tumultuous that Alexander's name is practically its own punch line these days. Alexander was accused of nepotism, bad budget recommendations, failing to oversee the district staff and secretly going about finding a new job. The teachers union tried to convince the board to oust him.

Yant had been critical of Alexander, questioning his commitment to the district, moving for his early termination.

Alexander eventually left — nine months before his contract expired.

But even on that vote, Yant once again was the lone dissenter on the board. He didn't want to pay Alexander 30 additional days of salary and benefits, believing the superintendent had breached his contract earlier by failing to notify board members that he was looking for a job in New England.

• • •

After choosing not to run this year for re-election, Yant said he's ready to move on. Time for someone else to step in. To offer their perspective.

His replacement is Gus Guadagnino.

Yant said he made his decision not to seek another term about 21/2 years into his time on the board.

"I started seeing things take shape," he said. "I always said that we didn't want to back ourselves into a corner that we couldn't get out of. And the way things started working, we were painting ourselves into that corner."

He said he feels there is too much partisanship on the board.

"Most of the time, my time on the board was a power struggle of someone trying to get their point across," he said. "And that wasn't the reason I was there."

In the end, Yant said, he feels the board simply had a different vision from his own.

"I just wanted to move on out of the way," he said.

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

James Yant will leave school board with some disappointment 11/22/12 [Last modified: Thursday, November 22, 2012 5:49pm]
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