No matter who is elected to the Hernando County School Board on Nov. 6, it is certain that the atmosphere in the board room will change. Three of five members will be new, and the most striking personal styles, predictable alliances and customary voting patterns are out the window. Whether the actions of the new board members will lead the school system in a positive direction or down a path of negative divisiveness depends entirely upon the individuals who are elected. This is why voters should cast ballots with the utmost care and thought. The board they choose could mean the difference between success and turmoil for the entire school system.
For these reasons, the Times strongly recommends that voters choose Democrats Nancy Gordon and Susan Cooper. We also recommend, with some reservation, Republican Beth Sanczel.
Gordon, Cooper and Sanczel have worked in often thankless jobs as volunteers serving vital community needs. All three say they recognize the school system has problems, but rather than condemning everything, they stress the system's strengths and, with upbeat attitudes, promise to build upon those.
All three have thought through and formulated concrete plans to enhance and improve school programs, as well as teacher, student and parent morale. Likable and approachable, they vow to improve communications _ a sore spot in Hernando schools for years.
Nancy Gordon, by far the superior candidate for the District 3 position, has a long, impressive record of service as a volunteer in community work in addition to remarkable achievements in her career.
She is a member of the founding board of directors for the Hernando County Mental Health Center and was chairwoman for one year. She has been on the Hernando County Zoning Board of Appeals and a member of the Hernando County Fair Association and the Hernando County Horsemen's Association.
Now retired from a successful 30-year career with Southern Bell Telephone Co., Gordon has the time and training to tackle school problems. At Bell, she started out at the bottom of the ladder, then worked her way up as business office supervisor, control foreman, support engineer, scheduling engineer, and current planner _ positions that thoroughly prepared her for the myriad challenges faced by school board members.
As a union member, Gordon learned valuable negotiating skills. As a supervisor, she maintained a healthy respect for line workers. "Treat clerks the same as bosses and peers," she says.
Her opponent, Jeff Stabins, though well-intentioned, needs a few more years of seasoning before taking on a job such as school board member. Significantly, the Hernando County Classroom Teachers Association endorsed Gordon despite the fact that Stabins is a member of that organization.
Susan Cooper's edge over her opponent is not so obvious, but it is significant.
Besides noteworthy involvement in youth activities _ she is vice president of the Hernando County Youth Association and president of Eastside Elementary Parent/Teacher Organization _ Cooper possesses the education and experience to make her an invaluable member of the Hernando school board.
She received a bachelor's degree in urban studies at Tulane University and a master of social work, human service planning and administration at Barry University in Miami.
Since then, she has worked as an urban planner, community planner, medical social worker intern, research assistant in behavioral science and has assisted in her family's construction and ranching business.
Just as important as all this, however, is Cooper's enthusiasm for public schools, her understanding of students, teachers and parents and her quick smile that brightens any room.
Her opponent, Richard Drankwalter, a Lutheran clergyman, also is involved with civic work, most notably the Brooksville Kiwanis Club, and has an obvious interest in youth and their activities. If Cooper weren't so much more particularly qualified to make school board decisions, Drankwalter would deserve voter support.
Backing Beth Sanczel is more problematic, not because she lacks qualifications or a good attitude, but because of some of her financial backers _ the recognized old-line Hernando establishment that has for too long controlled a great portion of public business, most notably, Coastal Engineering Corp.'s Cliff Manuel Jr. and lawyer Joe Mason.
Sanczel says their donations are irrelevant and that she will maintain her independence; we see no reason to disbelieve this. Still, this naive attitude, plus her work campaigning for the election of school Superintendent Dan McIntyre two years ago, has become the focus of her opponent's campaign and has taken attention away from her good record of tireless volunteer work in the schools for the last five years.
Sanczel is president of Pine Grove Elementary PTA, and was president of Spring Hill Elementary PTA and secretary of Hernando County PTA Council last year. She has been a volunteer at the Hernando County Family YMCA, Girl Scouts and the Spring Hill Art League.
Her opponent, Diane Rowden, by contrast, has done nothing to enrich or support school programs, but has concentrated her considerable energies hacking away at what already is there.
Rowden criticizes the current administration, but she offers no supportable solutions to the problems.
Her main suggestion for cutting expenses, for example, is to do away with the school's efforts to have elementary and middle schools accredited through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which would be a foolish and short-sighted leap backward for a system struggling for solid footing.
More harmful, however, is Rowden's penchant for making unsubstantiated accusations.
She says McIntyre created a teacher's aide position for Sanczel in 1989 as "a political pay back" for working in his campaign.
According to official personnel records, the position was created in August 1988, and was filled by another person. It was suspended for a year when the school received federal financing for a similar position, but was reinstated as a locally financed job on Aug. 1, 1989, and filled by a second person, Diane McMillan. When McMillan decided at the last moment to go back to college, the teacher's aide position was given to Sanczel, making her the third person actually appointed to the job _ not the first, as Rowden asserts.
These kinds of insupportable accusations are hurtful and stir up discord without reason. They do nothing to instill confidence in a system that for years tottered under the weight of political manipulations and maneuverings.
The Hernando school system's problems built up over a long period of time. It will take years to resolve them.
What is needed now is bright, optimistic leadership intent on building upon what is good in the system _ and, despite what some naysayers espouse, there is much that is good there, most notably the dedicated teachers and staff who are eager for support from the community and school administration, and many committed administrators.
Gordon, Cooper and Sanczel can provide that positive spark and can do much to guide the school system toward a fresh future.
Hernando County School Board members serve four-year terms at an annual salary of $17,332. While they represent the districts in which they live, they are elected countywide. Candidates on the Nov. 6 ballot are:
District 1 _ Beth Sanczel (R) vs. Diane Rowden (D).
District 3 _ Jeff Stabins (R) vs. Nancy O. Gordon (D).
District 5 _ Richard Drankwalter (R) vs. Susan Cooper (D).