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Frequently absent member needs to give up Pasco School Board seat

After a decade on the Pasco School Board, Cathi Martin still doesn't understand her job description. Tuesday, she said a flat tire, a fall at home and high blood pressure kept her out of work. We'll add those to the ever-increasing list of bad luck she has asked the public to accept since her 2006 re-election. The excuses include a car accident, a seizure, anemia, surgery, physical therapy, the suicide of a family friend, health concerns for her son, a wedding, illness, broken bones and the death of her dog.

Her response, however, is astounding. She told Times staff writer Jeffrey Solochek, "I don't think it's keeping me from doing my job.''

She is clueless. For more than two years she has not demonstrated a prolonged ability to represent 290,000 voters of Pasco County, guide the education of 67,000 children, set policies for 9,700 employees and oversee a $511-million budget.

Tuesday, she missed a regularly scheduled School Board meeting that included the unpopular transfer of a high school principal and the termination of a teacher (for absenteeism, no less); a workshop to hear about looming budget cuts because of the worsening financial picture in Tallahassee; a second workshop dedicated to revising school district policies governing students; and a scheduled appeal of the recommended firing of a teacher from the James C. Irvin Education Center.

Her absence forced the postponement of the appeal, meaning four attorneys — two paid by the public to represent the district and two from the union — and a court reporter ran up billable hours for cooling their heels. Likewise, scores of teacher supporters wasted their time traveling to Land O'Lakes for no reason and the fate of a teacher's career hangs in the balance.

So, just what does Martin consider to be her job?

In the past, fellow board member plowed ahead with no public criticism of their colleague's missed meetings. That ended Tuesday with both Chairman Frank Parker and board member Kathryn Starkey acknowledging the board must find a way to deal with Martin's absenteeism.

Since Martin is clueless about the implications of her dereliction of duties, the board should investigate publicly supporting a bill in the Legislature (HB 1323 and SB 2466) that gives voters the opportunity to recall elected school board members. The support could be complicated by a secondary consideration in the bill that ties maximum administrative salaries to teacher pay, but the Pasco School Board members should have an open, public discussion about the bill's merits.

They need not worry about embarrassing Martin; her record indicates she is beyond embarrassment. She has declined to resign her post and continues to accept the $37,714 annual salary and the accompanying benefit package accorded to full-time district employees even though she missed:

• Six of 10 committee meetings (she was vice chairman) to update the county's long-term land use plan.

• Nine of 17 School Board meetings between September 2006 and May 2007. In April 2007, she offered an eight-minute explanation for her string of missed meetings that detailed personal and family health issues and bad luck. After pledging a new resolve and commitment, she followed up by missing the next two meetings, attributing the absences to still more health issues.

• Eleven meetings, workshops and a town hall session between mid August 2007 and January 2008.

• Three meetings — and arrived late for two others over the past 14 months after public calls for her resignation and the unsuccessful effort in 2008 by Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey, to give voters the authority to recall school board members.

We do not wish Martin ill health, but she continues to fail her obligations to the citizenry of Pasco County. She or the board must act accordingly before the list of absences grows any longer.

Frequently absent member needs to give up Pasco School Board seat 03/04/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 4, 2009 8:19pm]
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