The Hernando County School Board will be getting a dose of fresh leadership with the retirement of 16-year board member Jim Malcolm and a pair of strong candidates seek to replace him in the Nov. 4 nonpartisan election for the District 4 seat.
Gene Magrini, 43, is a human resources consultant who offers significant experience in budgeting, management, and devising and implementing employee policies. Active on school advisory councils, he believes there has been good leadership from the board. He champions community investment in the schools, but his vision focuses on the small stuff — getting businesses to donate school supplies for needy families.
You don't need to be in elected office to tackle that agenda. And Magrini's grandstanding pledge to donate his School Board salary to cover swim lessons for kindergarten children overshadows an essential point: The community had been willing to donate $233,000 worth of a water safety program via the YMCA and the superintendent recommended turning it down to save $18,000. Obviously, substantial community partnerships already are in place.
More critical questions of community investment could be looming. The School Board might have to ask the public to consider new funding sources in the wake of state aid reductions. That will require true leadership on a board that can get bogged down on non-essential issues like school uniforms.
We will acknowledge Magrini's earlier budget observations. Over the summer, he predicted there would be plenty of money in the school district's budget to find $3-million to finance teacher raises of more than 4 percent. At the time, it struck us as overly optimistic, but the district eventually produced an offer of a raise package averaging 3.5 percent.
Still, that number now seems like it could be out of reach. The district and union are not negotiating financial issues right now and schools across Florida face additional cuts because of lagging state revenues and student populations that aren't meeting enrollment projects. Balancing the budget is the single biggest task facing the district. Witness two examples in the past week: The superintendent's recommendation to kill the kindergarten swim program and the redesign of a planned K-8 school to knock more than $17-million off the price tag.
Magrini has positive attributes, but he cannot match James C. Yant's greater level of experience and community service. Yant, 62, also offers a promise of independence that is hard to ignore. 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. It is a legitimate point considering the government-gone-wild aspersions cast by the development community on Hernando County government last year.
A trained educator, Yant 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. His record of community service is extensive and of most relevance are his eight years on the board overseeing PHCC during 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.
Broad ties to the community and the experience overseeing education-related budgets and personnel distinguishes Yant from Magrini. The Times recommends James C. Yant for the District 4 seat on the Hernando School Board.