LAND O'LAKES — Pasco schools superintendent Heather Fiorentino has dumped the man who spearheaded the district's part of the Penny for Pasco campaign and then oversaw the construction of 15 new schools with that sales tax revenue.
"At about 5 p.m. Monday, the superintendent called me in and said, 'I'm not going to reappoint you,' " said Ray Gadd, a 28-year district veteran who has served as assistant superintendent for support services since 2005. "No explanation or anything. She just said, 'I'm going to go a different direction.' That's all I know."
Fiorentino did not return calls Tuesday for comment.
Her decision did not sit well with several Pasco School Board members, who will consider Fiorentino's administrative reappointments next week.
"I've been dumbfounded by several of the superintendent's actions recently, but none more than this one," said board vice chairman Allen Altman, who worked closely with Gadd during the Penny for Pasco campaign. "Ray is the most intelligent, dedicated and widely respected person in the district office. For him not to be reappointed by her after 28 years of dedicated service is just a blow."
Board member Kathryn Starkey, who has worked with Gadd on land development issues, said she was disappointed.
"We said we were going to save jobs, and his is an important one. He's a valuable asset to the school district," Starkey said. "There's no one else who can do the job with the competency that he has."
Board member Joanne Hurley called the dismissal "unfortunate for a number of reasons."
She cited Gadd's involvement in the sales tax campaign, as well as his work in securing land for future construction and his participation in many community activities.
"I think we are losing a person who could do any job in the school system," Hurley said. "If the superintendent had talked to me, I would have certainly discouraged her."
But with the decision seemingly settled, there's little the School Board can do to keep Gadd after his contract expires at the end of June.
As board chairman Frank Parker said, though Gadd has done a good job, Fiorentino "is the one that runs that end of the operation. That's her decision."
The state has seen several court challenges to a superintendent's personnel powers over the years, said Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association.
"The bottom line is, the superintendent has jurisdiction over all personnel. The board sets policy, and the superintendent administers," he said.
That doesn't leave the board with no options. It does control the district's purse strings, and as such can decide not to fund a position that the superintendent recommends, for instance.
It simply can't choose who sits in each chair, unless it can demonstrate legal cause, something Blanton said is difficult to do.
"I don't know that the School Board has anything they can fight for," Gadd said. "I'm just tickled to count them among my friends."
Gadd, 52, said he wasn't surprised by Fiorentino's move. He moved up the ranks under superintendent John Long, and they both supported Chuck Rushe, Fiorentino's opponent in 2004. Gadd has been seen as a possible challenger for the district's top job.
"I think it's a political decision, and I'm in a political position," he said.
Other members of the community have rallied behind Gadd.
"He's a vital member of the business community as well as the education community," said Stu Gibbons, president of Connerton. "I am confident, with Ray's dedication to the community, he'll be back and involved in improving the quality of life here. But I hate to see him leaving that position."
Gary Bracken, former chairman of the Penny for Pasco Oversight Committee, blasted Fiorentino's move as not in the community's best interest.
"Given Ray's abilities, it's a poor decision for the people of Pasco County and their faith in the schools' responsible stewardship of resources for building," Bracken said. "The very fact that the decision has been made has damaged the relationship with the superintendent and the school district in general for the people who have enjoyed the privilege of working with Ray."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.