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Memo to Pasco principals was miscommunication

LAND O'LAKES — For the second time in just over a year, the Pasco school district's administration division has landed in hot water after issuing a controversial memo without the superintendent's authorization.

Last year, assistant superintendent Renalia DuBose sent out a missive in superintendent Heather Fiorentino's name telling employees they must remain on-call during summer months, when they don't work, in the event of emergencies. The workers filed an unfair labor complaint, and a state hearing officer sided with the union.

This time, new communications director Maureen Moore, who reports to DuBose, wrote to principals and assistant principals on July 2, telling them that they could not speak to news reporters without written permission from the communications office. Some School Board members and veteran principals quickly questioned the need for such a procedure.

Fiorentino, who was out of town at the time the memo was issued, quickly rebuked the message Monday morning, saying it "won't work" and was not her intent at all.

What's more, the memo violated School Board policy, which gives responsibility for dealing with the media on school-related matters to each school principal.

"I had had a conversation with Renalia about directors," Fiorentino said, referring to her desire to have a more unified message coming out of district-level departments. "I didn't realize she was sending it to principals. … This will definitely be clarified before the end of the day."

Principals had a new, more flexible rule from the superintendent — not the director of communications — in their e-mail in baskets before 4 p.m. Monday. The restated procedures make clear that principals can use their discretion to decide whether they want to talk to reporters.

That's as it should be, board members said.

"We should always be open and completely honest with the press," board member Marge Whaley said. "Doing this kind of thing tends to become reality, and people perceive that you have something you want to censor or whitewash. I wouldn't want to block anyone from talking to the press."

She particularly didn't like the idea that someone might be reported as unavailable for comment — something she considered "always a negative" — simply because that person could not get permission to speak from the district office. "We have nothing to hide."

Board members Kathryn Starkey and Allen Altman also had concerns about the initial memo, saying they planned to ask questions about its necessity and its feasibility. That was before Fiorentino tossed it out.

Fiorentino said she also had "fixed" the situation that led to the memo being sent out in her name without her approval.

"Memos from me or about me on my direction will be seen by me prior to going out," she said.

Asked for more details, Fiorentino said, "I don't like when buses drive over me. I won't drive one over someone else. It's been handled."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Memo to Pasco principals was miscommunication 07/07/08 [Last modified: Friday, July 11, 2008 8:39pm]

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