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Possible replacements emerge for Pasco County School Board member Cathi Martin

LAND O'LAKES — She has changed her voice mail to eliminate all mention of serving on the Pasco County School Board.

She told board attorney Dennis Alfonso to alert the rest of the board that she would not attend Monday's meeting and workshop — which she didn't.

Yet the school district staff put out Cathi Martin's chair and nameplate as usual, because even though Martin has resigned herself to quitting the board, she hadn't actually resigned by the time the meeting began. She remained a board member, and will be paid as such.

"We still have not received her resignation letter," said Sterling Ivey, spokesman for Gov. Charlie Crist. "Technically, her resignation is not considered until she notifies the governor."

That technicality did not stop several people from putting their names into play for the expected vacancy — and its $37,714 annual salary — whenever it becomes official. Among them:

• Cotee River Elementary teacher Anthony Terranova contacted Sen. Mike Fasano, who's expected to have a key role in recommending Martin's replacement to Crist.

• Real estate agent Carol Kemp, who serves on the county Housing Finance Authority, also e-mailed Fasano to express interest.

• Educator Mary Scicchitano, who recently moved to Pasco, showed up at the board meeting in bright orange to listen. Meanwhile, her friends called Fasano's office on her behalf.

• Lawyer Sallie Skipper, who served as superintendent Heather Fiorentino's campaign treasurer, contacted both Fiorentino and Fasano looking for details on how to apply. She lives on the border between two districts, and was trying to determine whether she could qualify for Martin's seat.

Two 2006 candidates for the seat, Michele Chamberlin and Renee Jonas, signaled a desire to serve. And the names of failed superintendent candidate Steve Donaldson, former state House staffer Richard Corcoran and lawyer Jeff Lucas, who sits on the board of state Rep. John Legg's charter school, also emerged.

"What I am telling people is, until all of the applications are in to the governor, I will not be making any decision," Fasano said. "I have told everyone who wants to apply, to apply. I would never discourage anyone."

Board members said they hope the governor acts quickly to fill the slot, which comes up for election in 2010.

That could help the board deal with the teacher disciplinary hearing that it postponed because of Martin's absence two weeks ago — the absence that prompted Fasano, Legg and state Rep. Will Weatherford to call for her removal.

Lawyers for teacher Jeffrey Bush, who remains on unpaid leave, asked for the case to be heard by four members of the board and not just three. Vice chairman Allen Altman has recused himself because of his personal relationship with Bush.

Chairman Frank Parker suggested that Crist might not replace Martin for at least a couple of months, and called on his colleagues to send the case to the state Division of Administrative Hearings for a quicker resolution.

"Let's get rid of the uncertainty," Parker said.

The others rejected that idea, instead agreeing to put off the hearing until late May in hopes that Crist will name someone by then.

Sitting in judgment over employee discipline "is one of our prime functions," board member Joanne Hurley said. "I do not want to send it to DOAH. We can meet as a three-member board if we have to."

That may be the case. Ivey, the governor's spokesman, said appointments to boards that do not have quorum issues generally take two to three months from the time the letter is received.

Which prompted Fasano to comment that perhaps Alfonso, the board's lawyer, should push the matter along by forwarding Martin's unofficial resignation e-mail to the governor's office.

"If she thinks she's going to sit around and collect that paycheck until the governor removes her, it could take weeks," Fasano said.

In other business

The School Board also:

• Discussed rental fees charged for nondistrict use of school buildings and facilities. Fiorentino said she planned to recommend the end to all waivers by July and asked the board for guidance on what type of fees to charge.

• Recommended changes to the proposed student code of conduct before the final reading in a month.

• Heard complaints from parents about the pending closure of an after-school program run by teachers at San Antonio Elementary. Board members asked Fiorentino to research the situation further before making a final recommendation.

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

Possible replacements emerge for Pasco County School Board member Cathi Martin 03/16/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 16, 2009 10:15pm]
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