The Hernando County Republican Party wants to fill a School Board vacancy with somebody who will represent the best interests of public schoolchildren while also displaying strong financial stewardship skills.
Here's the task at hand for whoever is selected by Gov. Rick Scott to fill the vacancy created by Pat Fagan's resignation: Balance a school budget that is staring at a $21 million shortfall.
Federal stimulus money that totaled $14 million over two years is expiring. Scott's budget proposal includes a 10 percent cut in per-student funding for another $13.4 million reduction. Yet the governor optimistically projects property values increasing by 5 percent. It would be a neat trick after three consecutive years of double-digit declines and no evidence of a turnaround on the horizon. Meanwhile, the board must plan to open a new elementary school in the fall with a $2.3 million cost associated with new positions.
With that bleak financial picture lying ahead, the Hernando GOP is assembling a new committee to review the applicants for Fagan's vacancy and to make a recommendation to the governor. According to a news release from Republican Executive Committee Chairman Blaise Ingoglia, the committee will "possibly recommend an applicant who will look out for the best interests of the students while being a good steward of taxpayer dollars.''
We're just wondering about the party's definition of "good steward of taxpayer dollars.'' After all, Ingoglia was the co-author, along with Commissioner Jim Adkins, of a cockamamie economic stimulus plan in 2009 that would have raided county reserves of $2.5 million to pay for $5,000 gift cards for anybody, regardless of income, who purchased a foreclosed home. In other words, dip into dwindling savings to reward real estate investors and to help liquidate an inventory of existing homes so builders like Ingoglia had a better chance to sell new ones.
Ingoglia and the building industry also championed cuts to impact fees, one time charges on new construction to offset the expense of providing schools, roads and other infrastructure demands attributed to growth. If the strategy had stimulated new construction as builders had predicted (it hasn't), it would have meant a business boost to builders while shifting a greater share of growth's costs to existing residents.
Neither of these schemes qualifies as good stewardship of taxpayer dollars. Fortunately, shrewder minds killed the gift-card plan, but the school board and commission acquiesced on impact fee reductions.
Self interests shouldn't be confused with financial prudence. The governor needs to pick a Hernando School Board member who will demonstrate a better understanding of stewardship of public money than the head of the local Republican Party who wants to pass judgment on the applicants.