Friday, January 19, 2018

Times recommends: Johnson, Rowden and Duval for Hernando School Board

The Hernando County School Board needs an overhaul. Individual members are ambivalent toward children's safety, display little conviction for trying to match revenue with a capital plan topping $200 million, and issue public statements contradicting their own votes. On the Aug. 26 ballot, there is one open seat, and two incumbents seeking re-election in the nonpartisan, countywide races open to all voters. If no candidate collects 50 percent of the vote, the top two finishers will be on the November ballot. Voters should elect candidates committed to public education, bettering student achievement and working to ensure schools aren't short-changed by fiscal policies tilted toward special interests.

District 1, Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson, 64, a private investigator, is the best candidate in this race. He has been heavily involved as a volunteer in antidrug coalition and dropout prevention programs and wants to bolster the district's high school graduation rate and its vocational offerings to build a better-educated workforce. He advocated for student safety in speaking out publicly at board meetings for restoring courtesy bus rides for children living more than a mile from their elementary school, and now wants to extend the program to include more students. It's a can-do attitude the other candidates lack.

Two-term incumbent John K. Sweeney, 51, can legitimately point to his work obtaining an extra $2 million from the state for the Hernando County School District, via a program for smaller districts, as a significant accomplishment.

But, much of the rest of his recent record is disappointing. He voted against providing bus rides for elementary school children living more than a mile from campus and failed to lead on the impact fee issue (though he voted with the majority to ask for higher fees from the county). In an interview last week, Sweeney said he has never been a fan of impact fees — one-time charges on new homes to offset public infrastructure demands from growth — and said waiving the fees allows the county to better compete economically with other counties. That's nonsense and nothing more than naked political pandering.

Also, Sweeney's role in a grade-changing scandal still has not been resolved publicly. He said he did nothing wrong in acting as a parent and wants a pending employee investigation to be expedited. He displays no sense of personal responsibility in this issue and instead blames: a teacher for losing his son's assignments two years earlier; an unidentified employee for printing a 750-page exam; an error-filled computer test program and someone else for changing his son's grades. So much for accountability.

The entire episode should give voters pause about re-electing Sweeney to a third term.

Donald Whiting, 68, is making his second run for public office after an unsuccessful 2004 county commission race. He is invested in the community, having owned and operated Whiting Insurance for 32 years and has a record of civic volunteering.

But Whiting's ideas are simplistic: More safety by adding skirting around portable classrooms and putting deputy call boxes on school campuses to provide a visual crime deterrent because officers could show up at any time to phone in a report from the field.

In the Hernando County School Board District 1 race, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Mark Johnson.

District 3, Jay Rowden

Jay Rowden, 70, who owned a machinery company before retiring 10 years ago, is the accidental candidate. He said he entered the race to replace the retiring Dianne Bonfield because he believed former superintendent Bryan Blavatt intended to run also. It would have been unfair to the current superintendent, Lori Romano, to have her predecessor as one of her five bosses, Rowden said. A Blavatt candidacy never materialized, but Rowden remained in the race against businesswoman Beth Narverud, the former head of the Hernando County Education Foundation.

Both Rowden and Narverud are strong candidates who have been private-sector successes and have broad community ties. They differ on fiscal priorities. Narverud believes the district can run its budget better and says it needs to eliminate waste in the district office.

She also does not favor school impact fees, saying they an unreliable source of revenue. It's the same tired rhetoric pushed by special interests. If impact fees are unreliable sources of revenue, how reliable is it to set them at zero?

Rowden, the husband of County Commissioner Diane Rowden, believes the current sales tax proposal should have been extended beyond 10 years to boost the district's borrowing power and to better attack the capital project list. The district faces a more than $60 million shortfall even if voters approve a half-cent sales tax extension in November because of projected revenue not forthcoming from impact fees.

In the Hernando County School Board District 3 race, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Jay Rowden.

District 5, Susan Duval

The names are familiar in the District 5 face: incumbent Cynthia Moore; Robert Neuhausen, who is making his third run for a school board seat; Anna Liisa Covell, a former county commission candidate and Planning and Zoning Commission member; and Susan Duval, who recently retired as principal at Springstead High School.

Duval, 67, is the top choice of the field. Having administered a high school during years of constrained budgets, she is familiar with school spending and teaching requirements. Likewise, she offers a greater understanding of student achievement and the obstacles that must be overcome to increase academic performance.

Moore, 72, a retired teacher, former head of the teachers' union and a school volunteer, has been a strong advocate for employees and children alike. And, most notably, she strongly supported education impact fees and even volunteered to finance a required consultant's study to justify the fees to the county commission. Unfortunately, her multiple flip-flops on courtesy bus rides and school start times demonstrates a lack of focus that undermines her effectiveness.

Neuhausen, 46, an electrical engineer, offers a similar cost-savings platform from two years ago: require bus drivers to drive below the posted speed limit and allow schools to go dark one night a week with no extracurricular activities. This year he promises to fight the Common Core State Standards and the tweaked state version, known as Florida Standards, which he maintains lumps students into one category and expects them to perform alike. It's a fight he'd have to take to the Legislature in Tallahassee, not to the School Board in Brooksville.

Covell, 63, a business owner who recently completed her master's degree in digital journalism, threatens the district's long-term finances by advocating for the defeat of the sales tax referendum. Her angst at the County Commission is understandable, but crippling the district's financial ability to upgrade computer capabilities, maintain buildings and pay off debt is an irresponsible tit-for-tat.

In the Hernando County School Board District 5 race, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Susan Duval.

Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

The Florida Legislature’s abrupt move to strip the University of South Florida St. Petersburg of its hard-earned separate accreditation and transform it back into a satellite of the major research university lacks detail and an appreciation for histo...
Updated: 11 hours ago

Another voice: Self-dealing by nursing home owners threatens patient care

The outsourcing of logistical support services, which became commonplace in the U.S. military in the 1990s and later was adopted by state prison systems, has now come to dominate the nursing home industry. And while nursing homes, unlike the military...
Published: 01/17/18
Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Three years into a crisis with its sewer system, St. Petersburg has a dandy new idea for dealing with the environmental fallout of dumping dirty water into the aquifer. Instead of committing to banning the outlawed practice, a consultant suggested th...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

A substitute teacher at a Plant City elementary school berated a class of fourth graders — and then the school principal. Another compared a student to a stripper. Others were caught napping, hitting children, making sexual remarks, giving students b...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

For the longest time, injured workers in Florida were basically at the mercy of the whims of employers to treat them fairly. A 2003 law aimed at reducing the cost of workers’ compensation coverage for businesses had the desired impact, but it also di...
Published: 01/16/18

Another voice: Why just Florida?

Cynicism has always been a part of politics, but rarely are politicians so brazen and self-serving as President Donald Trump and his interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, have been over the past week. First they announced a new offshore drilling plan that ...
Published: 01/16/18
Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Today’s holiday honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. couldn’t be more timely. At a moment when the nation’s civic dialogue is choking on personal and political division, it is hard to remember an earlier time when role models were role m...
Published: 01/15/18

Another voice: 38 minutes of fear in Hawaii

In 1938, Orson Welles panicked the nation with a false alarm about a Martian invasion in the radio broadcast The War of the Worlds. That was farfetched, of course. But what happened on Saturday, sadly, was not so hard to imagine — or believe.Authorit...
Published: 01/14/18
Updated: 01/16/18
Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

As it has for decades, Florida stubbornly clings to an inhumane, inefficient and indefensible system of justice that permanently sentences more than 1.5 million residents to second-class citizenship. This state automatically revokes the right to vote...
Published: 01/13/18
Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

President Donald Trump’s vulgar outbursts during a White House meeting on immigration are racist and indefensible no matter how he parses them. They are not presidential, they undermine U.S. foreign relations and they do not reflect America’s values....
Published: 01/12/18