Thursday, December 14, 2017
Education

Letter shows strain between Hillsborough School Board chairwoman, superintendent

TAMPA — April Griffin was shooting sporting clays with a friend who told her about someone who had a problem with the Hillsborough County School District.

As chairwoman of the School Board, she took an interest. Objecting to the way the district treated a Plant High School tennis player, she wrote a letter on school district stationery to state athletic officials last month.

Did Griffin overstep her authority?

"I have a right to advocate for my constituents," she said. "I did nothing wrong, and I will stand by my actions."

Fellow board members and experts in school governance have not accused her of breaking any laws or violating ethics. But some say it was an unusual course to take, and against protocol for elected school officials.

"A school board member individually has no standing," said Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association. "Only if the majority of the board is in agreement can they direct the superintendent and staff to do something."

Griffin said she told superintendent MaryEllen Elia to write to the Florida High School Athletic Association, asking it to let the student play tennis after the district ruled her ineligible based on her family's multiple addresses. She said she told Elia she'd write the letter if Elia didn't.

Blanton said Griffin had no authority to make such a demand. "An individual board member cannot direct the staff," he said.

Most school board chairmen get along with the superintendents, Blanton said, making what happened between Elia and Griffin that much more unusual.

Board members, while generally declining to take sides, said they would not have handled things the way Griffin did.

"We all have our own styles, but I certainly wouldn't have done that," said member Candy Olson, who served as the board's chair most recently in 2012.

Member Doretha Edgecomb, who was chairwoman in 2011, said, "If I were stating a personal opinion, I would not write it on board stationery because that gives an implication that it is coming from the board."

It depends on the subject, said member Stacy White. "I've written letters on School Board letterhead as long as I was writing as an individual board member," he said. "But never to take a position contrary to staff."

In Pinellas County, board Chairwoman Carol Cook said, "We have not run into that kind of situation, and I hope we would not."

Her board has guidelines that prevent such occurrences, she said. "When you put it on personal stationery, it appears you are speaking on behalf of the board or the district. We're very careful about that."

Like White, she said it is all right to use board stationery for something noncontroversial, such as an Eagle Scout recommendation.

School Board members often hear from parents who have issues with the district. The generally accepted response, they said, is to refer the matter to the staff, including the principal, and ask to be kept in the loop so they can respond to the constituent.

But Griffin contends such measures haven't worked. Staff, she said, have gone beyond board policy concerning proof of residency. She also said she is frustrated by what she says is a general lack of respect Elia has shown to those who second-guess her or the staff.

Elia declined to comment.

Griffin said her relationship with Plant High parents Mike and Nicole Mezrah developed after she took an interest in their case earlier this year. Although Mezrah owns a shooting range that Griffin frequented in the past, she said she stopped shooting there because of the situation.

When asked why she got involved in this case, she said, "This is the only one that has come to my attention."

Then she remembered another: After the Armwood High School eligibility scandal of 2012, she helped a student who owed a fine and had trouble getting his transcripts for college.

Ultimately, she said, she has the right to stand up for any constituent if she believes the person was mistreated.

"I would do the same thing for anybody," she said.

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356.

Comments
Hernando could be next stop for PACE Center for Girls

Hernando could be next stop for PACE Center for Girls

BROOKSVILLE — The new year could bring about new beginnings for at-risk girls in Hernando County.Pending a vote by the School Board next month, PACE Center for Girls, an alternative education program for middle- and high-school students, could open a...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Pasco school district, employees reach contract agreement

The raises for Pasco County school district employees aren’t as high as anyone would like, but they’re now part of a signed tentative contract deal reached just before 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.If ratified by the staff and the School Board, the agreements ...
Published: 12/13/17
For Bexley students in Land O’Lakes, math skills go airborne

For Bexley students in Land O’Lakes, math skills go airborne

LAND O’LAKES — At Bexley Elementary School in Land O’Lakes, students are throwing paper airplanes — with the help of a high tech computerized launcher. They’re also bowling — with a little aid from computerized drones. And when they get around to it,...
Published: 12/13/17

Proposal to rollback early learning programs could bring Citrus into Pasco-Hernando coalition

Some Florida lawmakers have not hidden their desire to scale back the statewide number of early learning coalitions that oversee child care and preschool programs, including Voluntary Prekindergarten.The state Office of Early Learning has now issued ...
Published: 12/13/17
Pasco-Hernando State College faculty to consider unionizing

Pasco-Hernando State College faculty to consider unionizing

Caitlin Gille grew up in a union household in Wisconsin, where her mom was a long-time teacher in the small city of Wauwatosa, just west of Milwaukee.She was accustomed to seeing educators advocating for their working conditions and pay, having a sea...
Published: 12/12/17
Updated: 12/13/17
Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2017 is ‘Feminism’

Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2017 is ‘Feminism’

NEW YORK — This may or may not come as a surprise: Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2017 is "feminism." Yes, it’s been a big year or two or 100 for the word. In 2017, lookups for feminism increased 70 percent over 2016 on Mer...
Published: 12/12/17
Book tasting event lets Fox Chapel students indulge their love of reading

Book tasting event lets Fox Chapel students indulge their love of reading

SPRING HILL — As she perused the book, something about Night of the Living Worms piqued sixth-grader Inessia Richardson’s interest. So she decided to take it home from the Fox Chapel Middle School library.The opportunity to look at Night of the Livin...
Updated: 29 minutes ago
‘It’s like an insane nightmare’: Parents question private company hired to drive special needs kids to school

‘It’s like an insane nightmare’: Parents question private company hired to drive special needs kids to school

RIVERVIEW — As a foster parent with two sons of her own, Kayla Storey has learned all the tricks to get her kids out of bed and off to school every morning. But this year, Storey says she’s the one waking up every school day with a knot i...
Published: 12/08/17
Updated: 12/11/17

University of Central Florida Greeks won’t hold social events, serve alcohol for 6 weeks this spring

ORLANDO — University of Central Florida fraternities and sororities won’t host social activities or any events with drinking for at least the first six weeks of the spring semester, up from the two-week ban on alcohol that has been in place in the pa...
Published: 12/08/17

Pasco class notes for Dec. 15

School Calendar• Dec. 22: End of second grading quarter.• Dec. 23-Jan. 7: Winter Break.• Jan. 8: Teacher planning day. No school for students.Arts/Music/TheaterCenter for the Arts at River Ridge Middle High, 11646 Town Center Road, New Port Richey. (...
Published: 12/07/17
Updated: 12/13/17