As Hernando School Board field widens, incumbent still on the fence about run

BROOKSVILLE — As James Yant ponders a bid for a second four-year term on the Hernando County School Board, the field of would-be challengers continues to grow.

Yant, 66, says that doesn't worry him. In fact, it makes him happy.

"I know all of the people that are running, and I think their intentions are good," he said. "I think it's always good to get new ideas and have competition."

Gus Guadagnino, a prominent local businessman whose civic involvement in Hernando spans more than two decades, recently became the fourth candidate to file to run for the District 4 seat Yant won in 2008.

As an incumbent who has lived in Hernando for nearly 40 years, Yant would be tough to beat. But Guadagnino, who has twice run for Hernando County supervisor of elections, is one of two candidates in the School Board race who have some countywide name recognition and could present a formidable challenge to Yant.

The other is Robert Neuhausen, a 44-year-old senior commodities manager and export control coordinator at Sparton Electronics, east of Brooksville. Neuhausen ran for the same seat in 2008, coming in third in a three-person primary. Yant went on to win the runoff election.

Neuhausen has another advantage. He filed in January 2011, 11 months before Helen Villafane, the next candidate to enter the race. A 67-year-old former teacher and administrator, Villafane spent her entire career in New York and retired in 2006.

The fourth candidate, 50-year-old Michael Gordon, is also a political newcomer. He most recently worked as an independent driver for a transportation company before suffering injuries in an auto accident. He now calls himself semiretired.

School Board races are nonpartisan. If there are three or more candidates, the race appears on the primary ballot. If no candidate receives a majority of the votes, the top two vote-getters move to a runoff that appears on the general election ballot.

Yant said the field is strong enough to make him feel comfortable as he considers whether to step aside.

There are some motivators that could push him in that direction.

His term has been a long four years, fraught with tight budgets and tough issues. Yant has voted to fire a superintendent and hire another. He and his fellow board members have made some difficult, controversial policy decisions, including an unpopular one last summer to cut bus service for students who live within 2 miles of their schools.

Though the seats are nonpartisan, the creep of politics into the board's decision-making process is frustrating, Yant said.

"A person will start off with the best intentions, then it depends how much they're influenced for political reasons," he said.

There are family considerations, too. Retired after a long career in the insurance business, Yant has an elderly mother and mother-in-law to help care for.

He's still not ready to make a decision, though. Supporters, he said, are urging him to try for another term, often stopping him in stores.

"People compliment me and my perspective," he said. "That's what puts me on the fence."

Asked when he might make a decision, Yant would only say that he will decide by the qualifying period. That is June 4 to 8, so he has about seven weeks to think on it.

Yant said if he does decide to run, he will pay the qualifying fee. For nonpartisan races, the fee is 4 percent of the current salary for the office sought. School Board members are paid $33,180, making the fee about $1,320.

Guadagnino said he didn't decide to file because of Yant's performance. Yant, he said, is good man who has done a fine job.

As a volunteer with the school system, the New York native says he has garnered plenty of insight into local education. He's been a member of the Hernando Education Foundation for more than 20 years, president for the last three. He is also president of the Pasco-Hernando Community College Foundation, Take Stock in Children and Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Hernando County.

A business owner for some 45 years and a past president of the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce, Guadagnino said his executive know-how would help as the School Board considers how to cope with an ever-shrinking budget.

The married father of two said now is a good time to run because his son, Joseph, has taken over the reins at Joni Industries, the family's Brooksville business that specializes in promotional products.

Guadagnino holds an associate's degree in industrial arts from the Community College of New York City.

"I filed because I feel like I can take the board to the next level," he said. "It's about what I can do and the impact I can make."

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or tmarrero@tampabay.com.

As Hernando School Board field widens, incumbent still on the fence about run 04/19/12 [Last modified: Thursday, April 19, 2012 8:08pm]

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