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Pasco School Board says it is committed to working with Cathi Martin

LAND O'LAKES — Enough political soap opera. Now let's get to work.

That's the message that Pasco County's School Board members sent Friday in the aftermath of colleague Cathi Martin's on-again, off-again resignation saga, which ended Thursday with Martin's announcement she will remain on the job.

"No matter who the board members are, I want to work with them because we've got a lot of challenges and a lot of problems to deal with," board member Joanne Hurley said. "If Mrs. Martin is on the board, I want to work with her the best I can so we can accomplish the goals of the board."

Board member Kathryn Starkey shared that perspective. Starkey and board chairman Frank Parker were critical of Martin's poor attendance record in early March, after Martin failed to show up for a teacher's disciplinary hearing, costing all involved time and money.

That dysfunction needs to be in the past, Starkey said.

"I'm hopeful that she will be coming back and fully participating in board activities," she said of Martin. "My biggest concern is that the board has very serious issues to deal with in the upcoming months. We need to focus on making sure we can provide the best education system for the kids in Pasco County. I do not want the board to be turned into a circus."

Conversations about the School Board have centered on Martin's status since early March, when Republican lawmakers Sen. Mike Fasano and representatives Will Weatherford and John Legg asked Gov. Charlie Crist to remove her, suggesting she had all but abandoned the job.

Hopefuls for the post immediately surfaced, with six submitting their names to Crist's appointments office, just in case.

Martin did nothing to dissuade the interest.

She wrote a letter to the board and superintendent Heather Fiorentino saying she would resign for health reasons. She stopped attending board activities. She worked with board attorney Dennis Alfonso to craft a formal resignation letter.

But she never sent it.

In the meantime, Martin conferred with family members and leaders of the county Democratic Party, eventually coming to the conclusion that leaving the board midway through her term would not be in the district's best interest. Martin is the sole registered Democrat on the School Board, whose members are nominally nonpartisan.

"I look forward to fulfilling my term and doing all that I can to ensure the continued excellence of Pasco County's education system," she wrote in a letter Thursday.

Hurley called Martin shortly after learning of Martin's decision. She said Martin sounded well.

Martin has had several health problems, and spent some time in March in the hospital for an undisclosed reason. Since 2006, she has missed meetings for a variety of reasons, including knee surgery, a seizure and complications of high blood pressure.

"I said, 'Well, welcome back, lady.' She said, 'I haven't been anywhere,' " Hurley said. "I said, 'I'm happy you made the decision that feels right for you.' I tried to be as supportive as I could."

The board next meets April 21. Martin has indicated that she will be there.

Parker said he will strive to ensure that the month-long distraction will not interfere with the district's business.

"As the world turns, as the page turns to April 21, it appears we will have a full board," Parker said. "It's my job to make sure the board stays focused and moves on."

Vice chairman Allen Altman figured that wouldn't be hard to do.

"We have a core group of people who care deeply about this district and the students," he said. "That work has been ongoing and hasn't changed. I think that will continue."

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

Pasco School Board says it is committed to working with Cathi Martin 04/04/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 4, 2009 10:30am]
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