BROOKSVILLE — A product of Hernando County schools who came back here to practice law, Matt Foreman says he figured it was time to give back.
A good way to do that, the 2001 Springstead High graduate decided, would be to help guide the school district that helped get him to Stetson University and a career in law. So in late July, the 28-year-old Hernando Beach resident sent in his application to fill the District 2 School Board seat left vacant by Pat Fagan, who resigned in March so he could collect his county retirement benefits.
Gov. Rick Scott selected Foreman, an attorney with the Hogan Law Firm, from a diverse field of 21 applicants for the nonpartisan seat. They included teachers, business executives, even a novelist.
"This community's given me a lot," Foreman said Thursday, a day after Scott's office announced the appointment. "There are a lot of teachers, some of whom still work in the system, who made a big impact on my life. I just want to make sure the kids in the system now have the same opportunities."
A native of Hollywood, Fla., Foreman moved with his family to Hernando Beach at the age of 5. He attended Hernando Christian Academy and Powell Middle School before moving on to Springstead, where he played soccer and joined the swim team. He also played soccer for the Hernando Heat.
Inspired by lawyers in his extended family, Foreman realized at a young age that he wanted to pursue a career in law. He earned a bachelor's degree in religious studies from Stetson University because he had an interest in the field and because he figured a field of study that required so much reading and writing would prepare him for law school.
He earned a law degree from Stetson in 2008 and was admitted to the Florida Bar that same year. After practicing on his own for about nine months, he joined the Hogan Law Firm in 2009. He specializes in family and personal injury law and also handles general business litigation. He is single with no children.
Foreman's father, Rob, is a longtime local hospital executive who spent 20 years at Brooksville Regional Hospital. He has served for the last six years as vice president of physician services for Oak Hill Hospital, an HCA-owned facility. Foreman's mother, Susan, is a nurse at Oak Hill.
A registered Republican, Rob Foreman has donated to local candidates of both parties over the years, including Fagan. He chuckled Thursday and said no when asked if he knew Rick Scott, who served as chief executive at HCA until 1997.
"I think my son is trying to pay it forward a little bit for his community," he said. "Hopefully, he will. His heart's certainly in the right place."
Matt Foreman's selection did take some by surprise, largely because he didn't submit his application until late in the game. By then, School Board members, superintendent Bryan Blavatt and others in the community had begun to complain publicly about how long it was taking for Scott to make the appointment.
In picking Foreman, Scott overlooked an official recommendation by local members of his own party. The Hernando Republican Executive Committee interviewed most of the applicants and recommended Holly Kollenbaum, a Pasco County teacher who lives in Brooksville.
REC Chairman Blaise Ingoglia said he didn't know Foreman had applied until he found out about Scott's decision.
"I know Matt, and I believe he will serve this community well," Ingoglia said.
So does former Hernando County Commissioner Chris Kingsley, another of the applicants.
Kingsley has known the Foreman family for years, accepting Rob Foreman's contributions to two of his County Commission campaigns. The Foremans are "outstanding people," and Matt Foreman is intelligent and will do a great job, Kingsley said.
But the appointment "doesn't pass the smell test," said Kingsley, a Democrat. He wondered aloud about the impact that Foreman's boss, prominent Republican Tom Hogan Jr., might have had on Scott's decision.
Foreman, who traveled to Tallahassee last week for an interview with both Scott and Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, bristled at the notion that Hogan or anyone else had a hand in his selection. He said he asked Hogan if it was okay for him to apply.
"He said yes, and that was the end of the discussion," Foreman said. "He didn't make a call or anything.
"I'm my own man," he said. "I have a good reputation in this community. My family has a good reputation in this community."
Hogan did not return a message left at his office Thursday.
Asked what prompted Scott to pick Foreman, spokeswoman Amy Graham replied in an e-mail: "Mr. Foreman was the most qualified candidate who lives in (District 2)."
Applicants did not have to live in the district, but would have to move there in order to run for the seat next year.
Foreman's application was the next to last to arrive, Graham said. The 21st arrived in mid August.
Foreman joins the board at a tumultuous time in education. School districts are grappling with plummeting revenues as they begin to enact sweeping reforms pushed by a GOP-controlled Legislature. Among them are a new teacher evaluation system that bases a portion of pay on student test scores.
Foreman, who will make $32,912 as a board member, said he was "up to date" on those reforms, but declined to comment on them.
"My job isn't to comment on the policies as they stand, it's to evaluate and get in there and be fiscally responsible for the students of Hernando County," he said.
He said he plans to do a lot of listening at first and hopes to start visiting schools right away.
Foreman's term will end in November 2012. Because he lives in District 2, he could easily run for the seat. But asked if he plans to seek a four-year term, he demurred.
"I don't want to commit to run or not to run," he said. "I just want to get in there and do the best I can."
Foreman will be among the youngest to hold a Hernando School Board seat and the youngest on the current board by two decades. He joins three former educators and a former insurance agent.
That diversity will be an advantage, said Chairman James Yant, who hadn't met his new colleague as of Thursday.
"A 28-year-old can give a completely different perspective on things," Yant said. "Sometimes we have a tendency to get locked in a box, and I think this is what makes a young, smart individual a good choice."
Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.