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Pinellas school administrator Janet Hernandez didn't disclose link to applicant

The embattled Pinellas school administrator may have failed to help her longtime partner get a district job. But things turned out better for her daughter's boyfriend.

Janet Hernandez introduced Michael Hernandez — who coincidentally shares the same last name — to the head of human resources. She wrote a reference letter for him. She made an official call to one of his other references.

But district officials said she never disclosed a key personal fact: that her daughter and Michael Hernandez are a couple and live together.

"She shouldn't have been involved," board member Linda Lerner said Monday when told of the relationship.

Michael Hernandez, a highly regarded Hillsborough teacher, was hired in Pinellas in February. The School Board named him an assistant principal at Northeast High last week.

It's unclear whether Janet Hernandez violated district rules, but School Board attorney Jim Robinson said the situation merits a closer look. Board policy bars employees from holding employment relationships that create conflict between "his/her private interests and the performance of his/her public duties."

"We seek to avoid even the appearance of a conflict," Robinson said.

Neither Hernandez returned several calls for comment.

Last week, School Board members shot down superintendent Julie Janssen's recommendation to move Janet Hernandez from one top job — professional development director — to another in dropout prevention.

Hernandez was a teacher and former assistant principal in Manatee County — and a graduate school classmate of Janssen's — when the district hired her last September. Employees said she created a climate of fear, and the district ordered a probe into whether she helped her now-husband misrepresent his criminal past on a district job application. The investigation concluded she should not be disciplined.

Board members, though, still voted 5-2 to reject the appointment. Janssen, who said she wanted to give Hernandez a second chance, said she would find her another district job.

Now there's a new twist.

Janet Hernandez did not reveal her personal connection to Michael Hernandez as he applied to work in Pinellas, according to records obtained by the St. Petersburg Times and interviews with current and former district officials.

Michael Hernandez's ex-wife said he and Janet Hernandez's daughter have been a couple for at least two years and were recently engaged to be married. Records show the couple live at the same address.

As head of professional development, Janet Hernandez oversaw the process Pinellas uses to determine who can be an assistant principal. Michael Hernandez wrote to her seeking a job.

His application noted he was a science teacher at Spoto High in Hillsborough and the school's teacher of the year in 2008. It listed Janet Hernandez as one of his three references.

It did not mention any personal connection.

On Jan. 19, Janet Hernandez wrote a reference letter for him. She did not mention her personal relationship with him.

The next day, on the district's behalf, she called Spoto principal C.R. Trathowen to check on his written reference for Michael Hernandez, which was gushingly positive. There was no mention of personal ties, Trathowen said.

Solomon Stephens, the former assistant superintendent over human resources, said the same thing happened when she introduced the teacher to him.

Michael Hernandez was impressive and "would have gotten a job without Jan," said Stephens, who left the district last month for a job in Alabama. But for Janet Hernandez to play a role in his hiring is "close to nepotism."

In February, Pinellas hired Michael Hernandez to be a teacher on special assignment at Gibbs High, where he mentored new teachers. The job was considered an extension of the professional development office, although Hernandez was interviewed and supervised by Gibbs principal Kevin Gordon.

"He was bona fide," Gordon said. "He was qualified for the job, and he did a great job."

Gordon said he did not recall other interviews for the position It was unclear Monday whether the job was posted.

Marilyn Lusher, a human resources director who helped hire Michael Hernandez, said if a personal relationship existed between him and Janet Hernandez at the time the application was processed, the "file should have been turned over to another HR administrator."

After he was hired, Janet Hernandez continued to play a role in Michael Hernandez's employment. On three occasions, records show, she signed off on part-time professional development work for him. One job was worth $1,300.

As a rule, those part-time contracts and "additional duty" gigs do not have an application process, Lusher said.

In August, Michael Hernandez was one of eight candidates interviewed for an assistant principal position at Northeast High. Records show he was the top choice of principal Paula Nelson. His salary is $56,030.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.

Pinellas school administrator Janet Hernandez didn't disclose link to applicant 09/20/10 [Last modified: Monday, September 20, 2010 11:34pm]
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