Danny Valentine, Times Staff Writer

Danny Valentine

Danny Valentine is based in Brooksville, covering education and general assignment stories for tampabay.com and the Tampa Bay Times. Always accepting story ideas.

Phone: (352) 848-1432

Email: dvalentine@tampabay.com

Twitter: @DannyValentine

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  1. Hernando School Board adopts bigger budget, lower tax rate

    K12

    BROOKSVILLE — By a 3-1 vote, the Hernando County School Board adopted its 2014-15 budget and property tax rate during a final budget hearing Tuesday night.

    The school district is projecting it will take in roughly $154.5 million in revenue for the general fund, ending the year with a balance of roughly $6.7 million, down from the previous year.

    The district came into the year with roughly $14.4 million in reserves....

  2. Chinese middle school students might study again in Hernando

    K12

    SPRING HILL — The Hernando County School Board on Tuesday gave tentative approval to continue a highly touted exchange program with a Chinese boarding school that debuted last school year.

    More than 50 students from the Beijing New Talent Academy attended Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics from March until May, making it the largest student exchange in county history. This year's program aims to be smaller, with only 15 to 30 participants, but will follow the same general format....

    (From left) Jen Simon (wearing a gray jacket), Angela Ruiz, 13, Han Wang, 13, (wearing a plaid shirt), and Rang Ji, 13, have lunch in the school cafeteria at Challenger K8 School of Science and Mathematics on Wednesday, May 21, 2014. International exchange students from the New Talent Academy in Beijing, China will return home on Thursday after spending nearly two months attending Challenger K8 School of Science and Mathematics in Spring Hill, Florida.
  3. Brooksville man arrested after making five 911 calls, deputies say

    Crime

    BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County sheriff's deputies arrested a 42-year-old Brooksville man Friday night after they say he called 911 five times in just over an hour for no legitimate reason.

    Amos Lee Young faces a charge of misusing 911. He was being held Monday at the Hernando County Detention Center in lieu of $1,000 bail.

    Deputies were called to 25374 O'Neal Road, east of Brooksville, regarding a report of a verbal disturbance at about 10:14 p.m. Upon arriving, Deputy Richard Killingsworth met Young, who was stumbling in the middle of the road. In one hand, Young had an open can of beer. In his left front pocket was a nearly empty bottle of vodka, deputies said....

  4. Hernando leaders push penny sales tax to prevent school cuts

    K12

    BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County School District superintendent Lori Romano spelled out in no uncertain terms the deep financial issues the district will face if voters reject a penny sales tax referendum on Nov. 4.

    With or without the approximately $8.5 million the district would receive each of the next 10 years, administrators will be forced to find a way to finance growing technology needs and repairs of aging schools. That means they would need to find the money elsewhere in the budget — a task the district has begun....

    Len Sossamon, Hernando County administrator, supports the proposed penny tax.
  5. Devoted mom, substitute teacher remembered fondly

    Human Interest

    SPRING HILL — Donna Sniffen knew the importance of a high-quality education.

    As a substitute teacher and a parent volunteer, she was a constant presence in Hernando County schools. She was a go-to sub at Chocachatti Elementary and Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics, someone other teachers came to trust deeply with their students. She was active in school plays, spent long hours in the media center, helped out in the school cafeteria and worked the front desk when needed....

    Donna Sniffen is shown with Christine, one of three children.
  6. Hours after firefighters leave, second fire destroys Hernando home

    Fire

    WEEKI WACHEE — Hernando County Fire Rescue officials say a home in the Glen Lakes development was destroyed early Wednesday by fire, hours after crews had put out a fire at the home caused by a lightning strike.

    Assistant Chief Kevin Carroll said firefighters responded to a single-family residence at 9203 Lake Cypress Loop on Tuesday afternoon about a possible lightning strike. They arrived and found a hole in the roof with fire in the attic....

  7. ACLU challenges Hernando schools on single-gender classes

    K12

    SPRING HILL — The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a complaint against the Hernando County School District over its single-gender classes at Westside Elementary School, claiming the classes violate federal antidiscrimination laws.

    The Title IX civil rights complaint, filed with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights this week, contends that Hernando's program is based on disproven notions about how boys and girls learn and develop, and that the district misled parents....

    Third-grade teacher Valerie Coddington helps Katrina Mozzi, 9, center, and Isabelle Cintron, 8, with a math assignment in a single-gender class at Spring Hill’s Westside Elementary School.
  8. Late textbooks have arrived in Hernando classrooms

    K12

    BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County School District has received all of the textbooks that were delayed as a result of the switch from Common Core State Standards to the Florida Standards, according to district spokesman Eric Williams.

    The textbooks, primarily concentrated at middle and K-8 schools, arrived over the first two weeks of the new school year.

    Although the textbooks are in, Williams reported that the district is still waiting on a number of accompanying supplementary workbooks for the texts in grades 6 through 8. A few high schools also are missing support materials for English, math and other college readiness courses....

  9. Pasco-Hernando State College reports 13.3 percent enrollment growth

    College

    Pasco-Hernando State College saw double-digit gains in student enrollment this semester, the biggest increase of any state college in the Tampa Bay area and the largest for PHSC since 2009.

    Nearly 11,100 students registered for fall classes at the college, which has five campuses in Pasco and Hernando counties. The enrollment is 13.3 percent higher than last year's, which hovered around 9,800....

    Lauren Belle and Tomas Moore study in biology class at PHSC’s new Porter Campus at Wiregrass Ranch in January.
  10. Fewer students in Hernando this year, but some schools lack enough space

    K12

    Winding Waters K-8 School has so many students this year that classes are being taught on the stage and in the faculty lounge. The occupational therapist provides services in the hallway. Closets have been converted to offices, and offices have been transformed into space for resource rooms.

    For the first time since the school opened in August 2011, enrollment has been closed, meaning new students can't register, even if they move into Winding Waters' zone....

    Music teacher Barb Weiss teaches a kindergarten class of more than 18 students on the stage in the cafeteria at Winding Waters K-8 school on Tuesday.
  11. Autopsies reveal head, neck wounds in Brooksville slayings

    Crime

    BROOKSVILLE — Autopsies of the three people shot and killed Friday night in south Brooksville showed that all of the victims suffered gunshot wounds to the head and neck, Brooksville police reported Tuesday.

    Police said that just before 9 p.m. Friday, 42-year-old George Mason III of Lutz fatally shot his girlfriend, Tarasha Townsend, 37, Ralph Peyton, 29, and 81-year-old Jannie Taylor, at 820 Peach St....

    George Mason lll is accused of killing three people.
  12. Hernando schools consider GPS tracking system for buses

    K12

    BROOKSVILLE — Only three days into the school year, a kindergartner from Brooksville Elementary School walked off his bus at the wrong stop and briefly went missing, triggering a frantic search and sheer panic for his family.

    While the boy eventually arrived home safely, the incident resonated with district officials. Shortly afterward, district transportation director Doug Compton and Hernando superintendent Lori Romano met to address what could be done to prevent the mistake from reoccurring....

  13. Push for passage of penny sales tax set to begin in Hernando

    Elections

    BROOKSVILLE — With the primary election now in the rearview mirror, the campaign to sell a penny sales tax to Hernando County voters on the Nov. 4 ballot is about to get going in earnest.

    And the group leading the push already has amassed a sizable war chest of donations: $154,000.

    In the coming days and weeks, there will be supportive postcards and fliers sent through the mail, yard signs and billboards, and an online presence in the form of a Facebook page and a soon-to-be launched website....

  14. Former Pasco teacher accused of trying to set up sexual encounter with teen girl

    Crime

    BROOKSVILLE — A former Pasco County high school teacher was arrested Wednesday after authorities say he tried to set up a sexual encounter with a teenage girl via an online chat.

    Robert Edward Smith, 61, of San Antonio is accused of engaging in long-term computer chats with a person he believed to be a 13-year-old girl, according to the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.

    During the conversations, authorities said he and the girl talked about sexual activity and what sorts of acts he would like to perform on the girl. On Monday, he requested a meeting with the girl, and the two agreed to meet at the Holiday Inn Express on Cortez Boulevard west of Brooksville....

    Robert Edward Smith, 61, was a teacher at Land O’Lakes High.
  15. Three new members guaranteed on Hernando School Board

    Elections

    BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County School Board is in for a dramatic makeover, with three new members guaranteed to come aboard after the November election.

    In Tuesday's nonpartisan primary election, Beth Narverud handily defeated Jay Rowden for the open District 3 seat, which was left vacant by retiring board member Dianne Bonfield.

    Incumbent John Sweeney, who became embroiled in a controversy this year involving the changing of his son's grades, was knocked out of the District 1 race with the fewest votes of the three candidates, leaving Mark Johnson and Don Whiting to duke it out in the Nov. 4 runoff....

    In Tuesday’s nonpartisan primary election, Beth Narverud defeated Jay Rowden for the open District 3 seat, which was left vacant by retiring board member Dianne Bonfield.