Editor's note: Today's story is part of a series of reports on local races on the Nov. 6 ballot. The Times will also publish its Know Your Candidates voters guide on Oct. 21.
On the surface, Gus Guadagnino and Robert Neuhausen have a lot in common.
The two survivors of the nonpartisan August primary election for the District 4 School Board seat both hail from the private sector. Both are longtime Hernando County residents. Both are involved in the schools from the outside, albeit in different capacities. Both cite unfunded mandates as being the biggest hurdle facing the district. And both say they will look for many of the same qualities when it comes to choosing the district's next superintendent.
But drill a little deeper, and differences abound.
One of the most important: whether the district's next superintendent should be chosen from within.
Current superintendent Bryan Blavatt will retire in June, and choosing his replacement will be one of the board's major tasks next year.
Neuhausen says he would prefer that the district's next leader be someone from inside the county. He argues that an internal candidate would be able to start faster and be more likely to stay in the position.
He said an outside candidate "will spend the first year of their contract learning about our schools (and) overcoming a learning curve."
Guadagnino said he would look more at qualifications than where the candidate comes from.
"I don't think we should discount the outside world," he said.
The two candidates also disagree on how the district should select a superintendent. Neuahusen believes a superintendent should be elected. Guadagnino thinks he or she should be appointed, as the district does now.
While both candidates believe in parent participation, they disagree on how to make that happen. Guadagnino believes a percentage of a student's grade should be based on parent participation. He thinks this would create better communication with parents.
"I see a very big difference when there is an adult participating," Guadagnino said.
Neuhausen doesn't like that idea at all.
"We really need to find a positive way, not a negative way, to get parents involved in the schools," he said. "We shouldn't penalize kids. There's parents out there that will never volunteer. You're opening up the school to lawsuits."
Neuhausen wants to move School Board meetings into the schools, making it easier for the public to have access to board members. Guadagnino is firmly against that idea. He believes it would end up costing the district too much money.
Aside from specific policy differences, the candidates differ on what they emphasize.
Neuhausen, a parent with three children in the school district, hones in on communication as one of the foremost areas he would like to address on the School Board.
He sees communication problems between the administration and schools and the school district and parents.
Guadagnino focuses more on the need for changes at the state level and the importance of going to Tallahassee to lobby on behalf of the district. He believes many of major problems facing schools today are a result of government involvement in the schools.
Each candidate would bring a different perspective to the job.
As a parent, Neuhausen delves deeply into specific issues. When he talks about the need to revamp the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, he references his children and their experiences. He is actively involved in the school system as a parent. He's a member of the school advisory councils at his kids' schools and a member of the Parent-Teacher-Student Association. He has volunteered with YMCA sports, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.
Guadagnino, a semiretired business owner, brings with him a strong business sensibility and a long history of volunteerism in the community. Unlike Neuhausen, his children went to private school.
He claims 10,000 hours of volunteer work in the community, with much of it being related to education. He is a board member of the Early Learning Coalition of Pasco and Hernando Counties and the former president of the Hernando County Education Foundation. He currently is chairman of the Pasco-Hernando Community College Foundation.
Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432.