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Dan DeWitt, Hernando Times Columnist

Dan DeWitt

Dan DeWitt has worked as a reporter or columnist for the Times in Hernando County since 1989. He and his wife, Laura, live with their two sons south of Brooksville.

DeWitt previously worked for the Newport News (Va.) Daily Press. A Cincinnati native, he attended Kenyon College in Ohio and received a master's degree in journalism from the University of Michigan.

Phone: (352) 754-6116

Email: ddewitt@tampabay.com

Twitter: @DDewittTimes

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  1. Despite concerns, Hernando School Board approves contract for deputies

    Prek

    BROOKSVILLE — Despite the reservations of several members, the Hernando County School Board on Tuesday approved a two-year contract with the Hernando County Sheriff's Office to provide deputies at middle and high schools.

    "I have concerns over this," School Board member Susan Duval said.

    The board previously had discussed the idea of a shorter contract to allow the district time to consider replacing some of the deputies with private security guards to save money....

  2. Hernando School Board gives initial approval to 2015-16 budget

    K12

    BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County School Board on Tuesday tentatively approved a 2015-16 budget of $223 million. That's $28 million lower than last year's budget, but includes $2.1 million more in general fund revenues.

    The property tax rate also inched up by .029 mills, to 7.196 mills, because of a mandate by the state Legislature, which largely controls the rate.

    A mill is equal to $1 in tax for every $1,000 of assessed property value, and this year's increase would mean $2.18 more in tax on a house valued at $100,000 with a $25,000 homestead exemption. The millage increase and rising property values mean the district will collect 4.2 percent more in local revenues this year than last, according to information provided by the district for the first of two required budget hearings on Tuesday. The district also received a boost in per-student payment from the state....

  3. Five dead, two injured in fiery crash north of Brooksville

    Public Safety

    BROOKSVILLE — All five people inside a pickup were killed Monday after it was struck by a box truck and burst into flames so intense that officials were unable to identify its occupants by nightfall.

    The Chevrolet pickup was heading west on U.S. 98 in northern Hernando County about 10:30 a.m. The box truck was traveling south on Citrus Way, about 3 miles south of the Citrus County line, and continued into the intersection without stopping, despite a stop sign and flashing red light, according to the Florida Highway Patrol....

    U.S. 98 and Citrus Way in northern Hernando, the scene of Monday’s fatal crash, is notoriously dangerous, officials say.
  4. Advocates say state should spend more money on money-making Weeki Wachee park

    Tourism

    WEEKI WACHEE

    John Athanason pointed to the wavy, white concrete roof over the mermaid theater at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.

    The job of restoring the 56-year-old "clamshell roof," which was completed last month, included ripping off asphalt shingles that for unknown reasons were installed over the graceful and nearly indestructible concrete roof in the 1970s.

    "I can't imagine why they covered it up in the first place," said Athanason, the park's public relations manager and a frequent visitor as a child. "I always knew, as soon as I saw the clamshell roof, that's where the mermaid show was. … It's iconic."...

    The Weeki Wachee Springs mermaids perform Monday. In the 2013-14 fiscal year, the park attracted 306,000 visitors and generated more than $2.2. million in income.
  5. DeWitt: Plan showing signs of progress in creating a town center for Spring Hill

    Growth

    The architects hired to create a revival plan for the Kass Circle neighborhood in the heart of old Spring Hill said, basically, that the area currently doesn't look like much.

    Nearby houses are "unsightly," according to a report produced by the University of South Florida School of Architecture and Community Design.

    The lack of landscaping in the median gives the adjacent stretch of Spring Hill Drive a "minimalist and unfinished appearance."...

  6. Committee begins the difficult work of rezoning Hernando schools

    K12

    BROOKSVILLE — A committee appointed by the Hernando County School Board has ensured that the process of redrawing the boundaries for schools zones will live up to its reputation for controversy, producing plans that include moving International Baccalaureate and magnet programs and closing an elementary school.

    Members of the committee, which met all day last Friday and again Monday, said these were among several rezoning options created at the urging of the School Board, which formed the committee this year....

  7. As referendum approaches, officials say Hernando schools face crisis with postponed repairs

    K12

    SPRING HILL — Sean Arnold started his tour of Pine Grove Elementary School last week with a disclaimer.

    "You're not going to see a building crumbling and falling into the ground," said Arnold, the Hernando County School District's executive director of support operations.

    What Arnold did point out were symptoms of cooling systems and roofs that have passed the end of their designed lifespan....

    Sean Arnold, a school district official, says downspouts at Pine 
Grove are rusty partly because old roofs don’t shed water properly.
  8. DeWitt: Brooksville's mixed-up positions on red-light cameras

    Local Government

    If you're looking for clarity in the confused mess of Brooksville's red-light camera program, at least there's this: The penalty is ultimately in your hands; you don't have to pay the tickets if you follow the simple steps provided later in this column.

    And you are perfectly within your rights to do so because the county judge who hears the cases, Kurt Hitzemann, has ruled the cameras' photos and footage inadmissible as evidence. Furthermore, the City Council voted in February to retire the program, which has been in place in its current form since 2011....

    Red-light cameras are still in operation in Brooksville, but take the right steps and you won’t have to pay the ticket if you get one.
  9. Brooksville mourns death of longtime city council member Joe Johnston

    Local Government

    Brooksville City Council member Robert "Butch" Battista remembered Vice Mayor Joseph Johnston III as always being able to come up with a compromise.

    "Joe seemed to be the steady hand whenever there were contentious issues," said Battista, who also served as city attorney during part of Johnston's more than 20 years on the council. "He could frame and articulate a position that allowed the council to move forward."...

    Joseph Johnston III, a Brooksville native, died Sunday at 63.
  10. Classroom support key to improved test grades for students in Hernando schools

    K12

    BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County students generally performed well on this year's statewide standard tests, according to a recent, limited release of results, including on science, U.S. history and civics end-of-course exams.

    And one of the most notable results shows the effectiveness of programs that support and enhance classroom lessons, said Ed Finch, a math and science coach at Eastside Elementary School....

    Teacher Ed Finch touted enhancement programs’ effectiveness.
  11. Dan DeWitt: Time has come for Hernando to remove Confederate statue from courthouse lawn

    Local Government

    There's a big problem with Hernando County's public display of the now almost universally condemned Confederate battle flag:

    It's etched in stone.

    A large outline of the flag is on, or really part of, another relic of oppression — the statue of the Confederate soldier on the lawn of the historic Hernando County Courthouse.

    I'm sure that by now you've read that support for displays of the battle flag is eroding as quickly as opposition to gay marriage. Dylann Roof allegedly killed innocent church-goers in Charleston, S.C., in hopes of creating an uprising among racists. Instead, thankfully, he created an uprising against racists. And their favorite emblems....

    The Confederate soldier statue was unveiled on June 3, 1916: Jefferson Davis’ birthday.
  12. DeWitt: Purpose of sheriff's show of forces is clear

    Local Government

    Call it the long green line.

    Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis brought quite an entourage to this month's first School Board workshop:

    Seven high-ranking employees, including Nienhuis. Most of them in uniform. Average annual salary: $95,000.

    The official word is that they were there to provide information, though the sheriff did most of the talking, presenting his case that the school district should pay $639,000 — more than twice the price paid by the Citrus County School District — for the program that stations deputies at middle and high schools....

    Sheriff Al Nienhuis has asked for a higher budget than last year.
  13. State money helps cut Hernando schools' budget shortfall in half

    K12

    BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County School Board learned on Tuesday it will have to take on a surprising new job: explaining why the district's estimated budget shortfall has suddenly shrunk nearly in half.

    "For the last couple of months, we've been told there's a $12 million shortfall, and now we're down to $6.3 million," board member Susan Duval said during the board's workshop. "How do we explain this to the general public?...

  14. Outgoing Hernando schools safety manager says cost of deputies could be reduced, if anyone would listen

    K12

    BROOKSVILLE — Mario Littman has some simple suggestions for trimming the $639,000 the Hernando County School District pays for deputies at its middle and high schools.

    The deputy assigned to Central High School could also cover "the one floor in the one building on the Central campus" that the district wants to convert to the Endeavor Academy for students with behavior problems, said Littman, the district's safety and security manager....

  15. During budget crisis, taxpayers cover Hernando School Board members' hotel stay in Tampa

    K12

    BROOKSVILLE — At a workshop earlier this month, the Hernando County School Board discussed a long list of possible cuts — including teacher layoffs, eliminating bus routes and closing schools — needed to make up the district's $12 million budget shortfall.

    The next day, board members Gus Guadagnino, Beth Narverud and Mark Johnson, as well as superintendent Lori Romano, set off for a three-day, two-night Florida School Boards Association Conference at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay hotel in Tampa at taxpayer expense....

    District spokesman Eric Williams says policy was followed.