The Pinellas County School Board acted appropriately this week by rejecting Superintendent Julie Janssen's plan to transfer oversight of the district's dropout prevention program to an administrator with a questionable record. Personnel decisions — particularly among the district's top ranks and for its most crucial programs — should be based on merit, not second chances. The only question now is why Janssen hasn't shown administrator Janet Hernandez the door instead of trying to find her a safe berth.
Hernandez, 54, was a teacher in Manatee County when the district hired her last year as Pinellas' director of professional development. Her prior administrative experience covered less than five years as an assistant principal at four different schools. She returned to the classroom in 2008 due to budget constraints.
Three times since arriving in Pinellas, questions have arisen about her performance or judgment. School board members' cited one — an internal employee survey that accused her of creating a "culture of fear" — in their 5-2 decision to reject Janssen's proposed transfer. Janssen contends some of that animosity stems from her decisions that Hernandez was merely enforcing.
But there have been at least two other notable missteps by Hernandez. Janssen has acknowledged that she had to caution Hernandez after learning Hernandez was implying to colleagues that she was close to Janssen. Janssen did complete a recommendation for Hernandez based on the work the two had done together at graduate school at the University of South Florida. But Janssen said she did not make the final decision to offer her a job and that the two had not seen each other in eight years.
Then there were questions about Hernandez's role in helping her husband win a job offer with the district. The district ultimately rescinded the offer earlier this year after officials raised questions about whether his application, which Hernandez helped complete, accurately reflected his criminal history. The district hired an outside investigator, whom Hernandez initially refused to meet with a second time.
Janssen, in defending Hernandez and her proposal to move her to oversee the district's dropout prevent programs, said she wanted to give Hernandez a second chance in a new setting and with frequent monitoring under a "success plan." She said she was impressed, in grad school, with how well Hernandez worked with homeless students. But placing an administrator with such a spotty record in charge of improving the district's too-low 77 percent graduation rate suggests misplaced priorities. Janssen's priority can't be rehabilitating Hernandez, but finding the best candidate possible to improve the district's embarrassing graduation rate.