The Pasco School Board shouldn't be playing politics with the public purse, particularly while proclaiming the purse to be void of spare cash. The board's decision to pay $175 an hour to an outside attorney to investigate allegations of coercion and intimidation of district employees by superintendent Heather Fiorentino's re-election campaign is a misguided political stunt.
It comes at the same time the district announced it will be again asking teachers and staff to accept a salary cut in the form of forced furlough days. How's that for skewed priorities?
Board members should be trying to save money. Instead, they are eager to waste it on an investigation of a accusation that board attorney Dennis Alfonso already said does not likely rise to a criminal matter. If Fiorentino politicked on public time or browbeat employees, the most likely outcome is an embarrassing public reprimand from the board. If a staff member did it, then it is up to the superintendent, not the board, to handle the punishment.
The coercion allegation surfaced publicly earlier this month when retired elementary school principal Barbara Munz told the board she had been contacted by current employees complaining about strong-arm tactics to support Fiorentino's re-election. Munz, who contributed financially to the campaign of Kurt Browning, Fiorentino's chief opponent, provided no specific details.
The School Board is scheduled to meet Tuesday for a first public hearing on its budget for the new school year and then doesn't meet again until Aug. 21, a week after the Republican primary among Fiorentino, Browning and Ken Benson, which will decide the superintendent's race. Is the public to believe the board wants to finance an investigation, the results of which will be irrelevant by mid August? Or should the public believe the board wants to keep this issue alive as a political benefit to Fiorentino's opponents?
At its budget hearing Tuesday, the board should make clear it won't fritter away public money on a political purpose. There should be no budget amendment for an external investigation of the superintendent. The district has better things to do with its limited resources.