Sunday, May 27, 2018
Education

Transition under way for Pasco school superintendent

LAND O'LAKES — Heather Fiorentino spent part of Wednesday morning packing boxes, clearing her office to make room for her successor as Pasco County school superintendent.

Kurt Browning, who won more votes than anyone else in Pasco on Tuesday as he breezed past a write-in candidate, spent his day taking calls and attending meetings as he prepared to pick up where Fiorentino leaves off.

Though headed in different directions, both shared a common concern: They were deeply disappointed that a report into whether top administrators tried to intimidate employees into backing Fiorentino's re-election bid had yet to materialize three months after the School Board asked for it.

Fiorentino, who lost the Aug. 14 Republican primary to Browning, said she hoped to see her loyal, hardworking staff lose the shadow of allegations against them. They've dedicated their careers to the district and deserve better than political games, she said.

Browning explained that he wanted to have the investigation in hand as he prepares to reorganize the administration. He wants to know: "Was anything done inappropriately?"

He said he did not want to place or keep anyone in authority if they were found to have misused their position over employees. That won't help change the district's culture, he said.

So they wait. The report has no set due date.

Browning did offer some insights into his direction, which he intends to begin bringing to the School Board for its consideration at the Nov. 20 meeting, where he will be sworn in.

For one, he plans to reduce the number of assistant superintendents, currently four plus a chief finance officer. He also will revise job descriptions for the superintendent's direct staff. Appointments would come at the Dec. 4 board meeting, if possible.

"I'm playing a big game of Jenga. If I pull the wrong block out at the wrong time, the whole tower comes crumbling down," Browning said.

He noted that he's working for the first time with employees who have contracts, meaning they have jobs through June. That gives them seven months to demonstrate their fit within his team. The changes should all be implemented by July 1, he said.

Browning does not plan to hire a chief of staff to run daily operations. That's a post the Florida Association of District School Superintendents recommended in a report that Browning has cited in his criticisms of Fiorentino's performance.

"I'm too hands-on to just have another layer between me and the assistant superintendents or other staff," he said. "I like to be engaged. That's how I learn."

He was still considering other FADSS recommendations, and expected to make more announcements in late November or early December.

He pledged a more outgoing administration. He said he and his staff will frequently visit departments and schools, not to put pressure on them to perform but to observe and determine what employees need to succeed.

"We need to bring the schools and district office closer together," he said. "We're not two entities."

Fiorentino said she would fulfill her duties to the end. She's got principals to appoint and a class-action teacher grievance to respond to. She's also got an agenda to prepare for the Nov. 20 board meeting, though she doesn't plan to attend.

"I thought about going," Fiorentino said of the ceremonial swearing in. "But I haven't gotten an invitation. So I'll stay away."

Her final board meeting after eight years, then, came Tuesday. That's when Fiorentino got her most heartfelt send-off from her most ardent foe: United School Employees of Pasco president Lynne Webb.

Webb thanked Fiorentino for her service as a superintendent, even for the times when they didn't see eye to eye. She said Fiorentino always spoke truthfully and frankly.

More than that, Webb said, the superintendent had children's best interest in mind.

"Heather is a teacher at heart. She always will be," Webb said.

Fiorentino fought back tears at the end of the meeting as she expressed her appreciation for the district staff and students.

"It's been my privilege to serve," she said.

As for her future plans, Fiorentino is thinking holidays first, job options later.

"Talk to me in January," she said.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected]

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