BROOKSVILLE — By the time Hernando School Board member Pat Fagan stepped onto the dais for the board's regular meeting Tuesday night, his resignation letter was already in the mail to Gov. Rick Scott.
Fagan, whose second four-year term was to end in 2012, announced at the start of the meeting that it would be his last.
The longtime county parks and recreation employee's position has been eliminated, and he said he is stepping down from the board so he can access his county pension benefits. His resignation is effective today.
He thanked the public for the chance to serve and said he has enjoyed working with teachers, parents and students.
"Stepping down is not something that I wanted to do, but it has to be done," he said. "My life shall go on, and this won't be the last time you'll see me, I promise you that."
After Fagan spoke, the room burst into applause, and the audience, staff and Fagan's fellow board members stood up as they continued to clap.
"I want to personally thank you for the support you've given me and the guidance," Chairman James Yant said. "Hopefully, the person who's appointed will have the students in mind as you did when you served on the board."
The announcement didn't come as a surprise.
The County Commission last month cut Fagan's parks and recreation manager position to bridge a $115,000 budget gap for the current fiscal year. Fagan, who is married with 16-year-old twin daughters, had warned that he would step down from the board because he cannot afford to defer his county pension and live on the School Board salary of $32,917 for the rest of his term.
Under Florida Retirement System rules, Fagan cannot collect his retirement benefits from his county position while still on the public payroll as a School Board member.
Fagan is refusing to sign a separation agreement that would have set his resignation day as May 27, with his actual last day of work to be the eighth calendar day after he signed. The county would pay for three months of COBRA health insurance benefits for Fagan and his family.
But Fagan says the agreement does not provide for life insurance during that time, and overreaches in its restrictions.
By signing the pact, Fagan also would waive his rights to bring legal action against the county under the federal Age Discrimination Act, Florida's civil rights, equal pay and whistle-blower laws, and "any other claim" relating to his employment. Also, he could not "disparage the County or its past or present commissioners, officers, directors, or employees."
The county gave Fagan a March 10 deadline to sign the agreement. Fagan assumes that will be his last day, but he said he hasn't been told for sure. On Monday, county director of administrative services Cheryl Marsden told the Times that a decision hadn't been made about Fagan's last day and to check back Thursday.
Fagan sent his letter of resignation via overnight mail to Scott's office explaining that he "must access my retirement benefits that I have accumulated in the last 39 and a half years to support my minor children through their high school and college years."
"I know that I am leaving the Hernando County School Board in good hands with the leadership skills of superintendent Bryan Blavatt and my elected colleagues on the board," Fagan wrote. "I will continue to serve my community in a voluntary capacity and entrust the selection of my successor to you, our governor."
Scott will appoint someone to fill the vacancy and serve until the next election. The qualifying period is in June. School Board races are nonpartisan, and all candidates will be in the Aug. 28, 2012, primary. If a race has three or more candidates and no candidate receives a majority of votes, the top two vote-getters would move to the general election ballot in November.
Fagan still isn't ruling out a bid to return to public office, maybe even for his old School Board seat or a County Commission post.
He would receive his first distribution check for his county benefits 30 days after leaving his position. FRS rules allow him to return to an FRS employer six months after receiving that first check.
That means Fagan could run for School Board or County Commission and, if victorious, take the seat in November 2012 without jeopardizing his county benefits. He would not be eligible for benefits for any elected post he takes.
"You just never know what I might decide to do between now and a year from now," he said.