Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Education

Pasco School Board criticizes superintendent over communication issues

LAND O'LAKES — Pasco School Board members let loose Tuesday with angry criticism of the way superintendent Heather Fiorentino conducts business with the board.

They accused her of creating plans to reorganize the district central office without keeping them in the loop or asking them if they had any direction they'd like to see.

"The failure to communicate with the board on a consistent basis has been painfully obvious the past few months," board member Allen Altman said after the session, suggesting change is critical for the district's future success.

The board's ire boiled over during a workshop focusing on district-level leadership. It also happened just hours before Fiorentino, who is elected, was to hold her first re-election campaign fundraiser.

Board members, some of whom are linked to possible Fiorentino challengers, had come prepared to discuss the findings of a months-old report that indicated the district had severe management and morale problems, and how those might be repaired.

What they got was the outline of a five-year "transformation" plan based on months of study, along with comments from Fiorentino and her lieutenants that some of the facts in the initial report were inaccurate. Startled, board members expressed dismay that Fiorentino had embarked upon creating a plan while they were held off in discussing the original problem and offering possible solutions that they could support.

"The board didn't move on. The board hasn't even had an opportunity to discuss this," chairwoman Joanne Hurley said. "If you are setting sail on a five-year transitional timeline and you're leaving the board on the shoreline, then I would suggest … you may have rough seas ahead."

Altman took the analogy a step further.

If the administration doesn't deal with the problems highlighted in that report issued by the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, he said, "the ship will sink" before it gets too far.

Board member Alison Crumbley, who also criticized Fiorentino's handling of a magnet school survey two weeks ago, noted that the FADSS report highlighted the need to improve communication because too often people in different areas or departments are left in "silos."

"This board doesn't want to be in a silo," Crumbley said.

Fiorentino protested that she had not "set sail" at all. Rather, she explained, the staff had begun investigating options to bring to the board for its discussion.

"We have been trying to build a ship to see if it's seaworthy," Fiorentino told the board. "What we are trying to do is get the pieces together. We are still gathering the materials."

Later on, she acknowledged that communication has not been her bright spot. That can be problematic, she added, particularly with such an active and involved School Board.

She said she would look into ways to better inform the board of critical district activities, perhaps with a weekly update. She insisted that she never intended to leave anyone in the dark.

"The important thing is that every board member is an important member of our team," Fiorentino said. "We realize that. We just need to call them more often, maybe spend a little more time individually with them."

Fiorentino made improved communication part of her 2008 re-election campaign. She has touted actions such as creating more public forums and staff meetings on key issues such as the budget as indications that she made headway.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

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