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Pasco school chief upsets board with her silence

LAND O'LAKES — Heather Fiorentino never broke her silence.

Not when Pasco High assistant principal Robin Futch asked for answers about her dismissal. Not when Pasco School Board members criticized her decision not to reappoint assistant superintendent Ray Gadd.

When it came to talking about her administrative choices, the superintendent just sat in her seat during Tuesday's board meeting, taking notes, explaining nothing.

And that has some key players concerned.

Board vice chairman Allen Altman spoke at length toward the end of the session about the importance of teamwork between the superintendent and the board if the district is to grow and improve.

He said Fiorentino's unwillingness to consult the board members about her plans for the district's future direction — or even to give them courtesy notification about her intention to let go of Gadd and others — undermined the district's efforts to attract and retain leaders.

He called for a return to the lessons the board members and Fiorentino learned during their training on working together. Others on the board agreed, suggesting that the superintendent's communication skills were lacking.

She had, as board member Kathryn Starkey said, failed to follow the board's prime directive of "No surprises."

United School Employees of Pasco president Lynne Webb said she, too, worried that the superintendent's moves — paired with her unwillingness to discuss them — cast a pall over employee morale.

"What's distressing the most was the way it was communicated, or should I say, not communicated," Webb said, reminding the board that improving communications was supposed to be high on the agenda in Fiorentino's second term.

During her 2008 re-election campaign, Fiorentino frequently acknowledged the need for her to do a better job of talking and listening to workers and board members while creating plans.

Tuesday night, though, she continued to evade the questions. The only thing she said during the entire conversation dealt with board procedural rules.

"I don't talk about reappointments," Fiorentino said after the meeting ended.

Asked whether all the criticism put her in an uncomfortable position, she said simply, "It was an interesting board meeting."

She wouldn't comment about the communication issues, either.

"Being fair to (the board members), I would rather have a private conversation with them," she said. "I'm not going to argue with my board in the press."

She did not set a time line for detailing her goals for the assistant superintendent of support services or the communication director positions — held by Ray Gadd and Maureen Moore, respectively, who were told last week they would be out of a job July 1.

Fiorentino had told them both that the district was going "in a new direction," but School Board members say she hasn't shared that direction with them.

Board members indicated they might withhold funding for those jobs in the 2009-10 budget until they hear specifics from the superintendent.

The law gives sole authority to hire and fire to the superintendent. But the board still has the power of the purse.

Fiorentino plans to have her budget recommendations done by July 1.

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.

"I don't talk about reappointments." — Superintendent Heather Fiorentino, who sat silently during a School Board discussion on her dismissal of several administrators.

Pasco school chief upsets board with her silence 06/17/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 17, 2009 8:31pm]
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