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What if? Hernando School Board grapples with superintendent question

BROOKSVILLE — It's one of those classic, awkward workplace situations.

An employee tells his bosses that he loves his job, but a family situation has forced him to seek new employment. But really, he'd rather stay right where he is.

That's what superintendent Wayne Alexander told the Hernando County School Board recently.

But he told a different story when he sat down for a job interview Saturday with the Framingham (Mass.) Public Schools.

"It brings me back home," he said, referring to Framingham. "I'm from Massachusetts, I know Massachusetts. Being home is my number one priority."

Hired in 2007, Alexander is one of four semifinalists to lead the 8,000-student district outside Boston. In a letter last month to members of the Hernando board, he said he was forced to seek work in New England because of a visitation dispute involving children from his new wife's previous marriage.

"My wife and I want to raise our children in Hernando County," he wrote. "I am very proud of our schools and community. It is a great place to raise kids."

If Alexander were offered a job near Connecticut, where his wife and children live, he would try to persuade the court that it wasn't as good a match for his skills as Hernando, he wrote.

Last spring, Alexander was given an extra "rollover" year and a 5.5 percent raise on his two-year contract, pushing his pay to $125,545 and extending the contract through the spring of 2010. The advertised salary range in Framingham is $190,000 to $215,000.

All of which puts the Hernando board in a tough position. Chairwoman Dianne Bonfield said there is little the board can do until Alexander's future is known.

"I don't think as a board member I can think of anything we can do until he gives his resignation," she said. "I can't make that call until I know for certain that he has secured a new job."

But the longer it's drawn out, several members said, the harder it will be to find a suitable replacement for next fall.

"I think that we need to start talking about that now," said James Yant. "I never believe waiting until the last minute is the right decision, because that puts the board on defense.

"There have been community members calling all of us," he added. "They are concerned and they are upset."

Yant said the board should discuss the situation at its Jan. 20 meeting, and devise plans for every contingency.

Member Pat Fagan echoed that assessment. "We've got to be ready to get the process going if he does accept the job," he said.

Both he and Sandra Nicholson said the board might consider hiring an interim superintendent for next year, if Alexander resigns too late in the year for the board to conduct a proper search for his replacement.

"We have done interim before," Nicholson said. "The one thing you don't want to do is rush into something."

The confusion comes at a particularly difficult time for the district, as state officials warn of severe funding cutbacks. Already the district is planning for a $6-million shortfall, and state officials have predicted districts may need to shave 10 percent more from their budgets for next fall.

And last week, much-praised finance director Deborah Bruggink said she would soon be leaving her position for a new job in Alabama.

"She may be more difficult to replace," said board member John Sweeney.

With both of those positions in flux, and no assistant superintendent to fall back on, Sweeney said the board should at least discuss the potential leadership vacuum at its next meeting.

"(Alexander) is not the type of person to stop working; I'm not worried about that," he said. "But we'll have to address the situation at one point or another. We just can't pretend it's not happening."

Times correspondent Kristi Ceccarossi contributed to this story from Framingham. Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

What if? Hernando School Board grapples with superintendent question 01/10/09 [Last modified: Sunday, January 11, 2009 10:57pm]
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