Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Education

Pasco School Board seeks independent counsel on superintendent complaints

LAND O'LAKES — A retired principal's complaints about Superintendent Heather Fiorentino's administration will be handed over to an independent counsel to determine if any board policies were violated.

School Board members voted unanimously Tuesday evening to allow school district attorney Dennis Alfonso to hire someone to look into Barbara Munz's allegations that some employees felt threatened, intimidated and strong armed into supporting Fiorentino's campaign.

Fiorentino, who faces a re-election challenge on Aug. 14 from former Secretary of State Kurt Browning and Moon Lake handyman Kenneth Benson, called the vote "purely political."

"They're just trying to help their friend," said Fiorentino, referring to Browning, who has drawn support from some board members and school employees.

Fiortenino said she was ambushed, as no one told her the topic was coming up at Tuesday's meeting.

"I have not seen any documents," she said. "I have not seen any charges."

Alfonso said there is no evidence of any criminal wrongdoing, only questions about possible policy violations. One complaint, about the transfer of a district administrator to an assistant principal's job, was taken off the table as the superintendent has that authority and the staffer resigned.

Alfonso said the other allegations, if they are true, could constitute a violation of the district's campaign policy and its civility policy. He said the allegations don't directly involve Fiorentino, but are "related to the superintendent." A newly approved board policy says that such cases should be assigned to independent counsel to investigate.

Alfonso called the situation "awkward" and said since Munz's complaints earlier this month, the district had received letters and calls from other people.

Board chairwoman Joanne Hurley declined to comment on Fiorentino's accusations that the move was political.

Alfonso said he did not know how long the investigation might take. He recommended the board authorize him to hire Thomas Gonzalez, who has been an attorney for the Hillsborough County School District. The cost would be about $175 per hour.

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