The Hernando County School Board is poised for fresh leadership and a trio of quality candidates are seeking the opportunity to replace retiring board member Jim Malcolm in the Aug. 26 nonpartisan election for the District 4 seat.
The winner of the race among Gene Magrini, Robert Neuhausen and James C. Yant will be hard-pressed to duplicate Malcolm's distinguished 16 years on the board, but the public will be well-served if the victor tries to emulate Malcolm's level-headed leadership.
All three candidates are critical of the Amendment 5 proposal before voters in November that would replace school property taxes with a higher sales tax without a funding commitment to make up the multibillion-dollar shortfall. Magrini, for instance, called the proposed constitutional amendment "cowardly and flawed. The way it was written is good politics, but really bad policy.''
Magrini is a human resources consultant who offers significant experience in budgeting, management and devising and implementing employee policies. He is active on school advisory councils, believes there has been good leadership from the board and talks of community investment in the schools. His example of investing, however, is getting businesses to donate school supplies for needy families. That should be the bare minimum a community can do. At some point the board might have to ask the public to consider new funding sources in the wake of state aid reductions, and that will require true leadership.
Magrini states there is plenty of money in the school district's budget to lop off more than $3-million to finance teacher raises of more than 4 percent. It strikes us as overly optimistic. The district has offered teachers just the step increases based on seniority amounting to just more than 1 percent.
Neuhausen has a more realistic view of the proposed budget and does not believe money exists to finance teacher raises this year. He is critical of the board's performance on fiscal matters, noting he has witnessed lengthy debates over mundane expenditures of a few thousand dollars but little discussion of multimillion-dollar budget items.
Neuhausen, who has been active in scouting and the YMCA, said the district needs better communication with the public and effective liaison positions with teachers at each school. That, too, is optimistic. A district that doesn't have money for teacher raises can't be expected to fund coordinator-level jobs at 21 schools.
Yant enters the race with the greatest level of experience and community service and a promise of independence. A State Farm Insurance agent, he points out that most of his campaign contributions are from other agents within and outside the county, so he won't be beholden to potentially ulterior motives of the real estate industry.
Yant is short on specifics in his platform but is most vocal about his fears for the district if voters approve Amendment 5.
"I'm not doing this for me,'' Yant said, "it's the children who are in the middle of this.''
A trained educator, he was a guidance counselor at Hernando High and then a student adviser at Pasco-Hernando Community College before switching careers in the mid 1980s. He mentors children in Big Brothers/Big Sisters and this year was named that group's volunteer of the year. Most notably, he served on the board overseeing PHCC for eight years ending in 2001, a period of extensive growth for the college. Yant also was instrumental in the board's wise decision to hire the highly regarded Dr. Robert Judson as the college president.
That experience distinguishes Yant from the rest of the field. The Times recommends James C. Yant for the District 4 seat on the Hernando County School Board.