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School Board revolves around style

Insider, outsider. Supporter, critic. The District 1 Hernando School Board race is marked by sharp contrasts in style and radically different opinions of the school administration. On the outside: Democrat Diane Rowden, 41, an energetic Delta Air Lines flight attendant for 21 years, has focused on what she said are grave problems with the school administration and its superintendent, Dan McIntyre.

Rowden has three school-age children, but only one is in the Hernando public schools. She has never joined the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA), which she says is cliquish and ineffective.

Instead, Rowden has worked outside the system, forming her own watchdog group more than a year ago to scrutinize and criticize administration and School Board actions. "The arrogance . . . I couldn't believe it," she said, describing her reaction to the first School Board meeting she attended.

In her own words, Rowden is "obsessed" with her campaign, going as far as visiting the small town in Tennessee where McIntyre worked as superintendent in the early 1980s to find out more about him..

Her campaign contribution list includes donations from several of McIntyre's sharpest critics, including $250 School Board member Joe DeLena and Nick Morana, who contributed $1,000 and was defeated by McIntyre in the bitter 1988 race for superintendent.

On the inside: Republican Beth Sanczel, 40, a soft-spoken former small-appliance repairwoman at Sears who dropped out of high school to have a baby, then went back and received her high school diploma at age 21.

"I took on a lot of responsibilities young," she said.

Since arriving in Hernando County in 1984, she has been active in Parent-Teacher Associations at two schools and has been secretary of the Hernando County Council PTA and a teacher's aide at Pine Grove Elementary School. Her two school-age children attend public school.

Sanczel has avoided criticizing the administration or McIntyre, preferring instead to emphasize what she calls positive solutions to district problems through a team effort of administrators, teachers and parents.

But she has caught heat for her reluctance to turn away certain campaign contributions _ including $400 from McIntyre's mother and father. Some say the contributions could lead to questions about her objectivity.

In a School Board campaign that has been more notable in all three races for its lack of ideas than its innovative suggestions, style and motivation have taken precedent. And nowhere are the differences between the candidates greater than in the District 1 race.

Rowden organizes

Rowden has been campaigning for a long time; that is the way Paul Sullivan, a former school board member in Connecticut who now follows politics in Hernando, sees it.

"When I heard Diane Rowden talk about how terrible (Superintendent) Dan McIntyre was and how he was going to destroy the system, I said to someone that night, "That woman is creating publicity for herself and will be a candidate,'

" Sullivan said, recalling the first meeting of the watchdog group founded by Rowden and husband Jay.

The group, known as POWER (People Organized as Watchdogs for Education and Responsibility), was organized about 18 months ago.

In September 1989, the Rowdens and more than 100 of their River Country neighbors attended a School Board budget hearing wearing black armbands and carrying pickets to challenge administrators on their spending and tax rates.

In March, they formed a political action committee (PAC) focused exclusively on defeating School Board member Louise Boehme in the Republican primary election in District 3. Rowden was chairwoman of the PAC.

Boehme, the only School Board incumbent to run for re-election, is an avowed McIntyre supporter.

On May 7, after 10 years as a registered Republican, Rowden switched her political affiliation to Democrat. Three days later, she announced her candidacy for the District 1 seat being vacated by DeLena and resigned from the PAC. Because she was the only Democrat in the race, she faced no primary opposition.

The PAC spent $5,790 _ all but $290 of which was provided by Jay Rowden _ to help Jeff Stabins defeat Boehme by a 58 percent margin. Most of the money was used in a blitz of negative advertising the last weekend of the campaign.

Since the formation of POWER, Diane Rowden has been an unceasing and vehement critic, accusing the school system of wasting money and putting more emphasis on administration than students.

"I found out a lot of people felt like me, but I was the one bravest enough to say: "I don't like what you are doing,"' she said.

There is also a personal element in the Rowdens' bitterness toward the school system.

"Jay was blasted by Boehme," Rowden said. She said her husband was publicly humiliated by Boehme last year as he addressed the School Board.

Rowden has charged repeatedly that the administration continues to dole out political favors; she has singled out Sanczel in particular. Rowden charges that Sanczel's position as a teacher's aide in art at Pine Grove Elementary school last year was created for her because she supported McIntyre's election bid.

But school records show the job had existed for a year and that two other people had been appointed to fill the position before it was offered to Sanczel.

On Thursday, Rowden called the media with an allegation of conflict of interest in McIntyre's administration: The wife of Jerry Runkle, assistant superintendent in charge of operations, is working part time at Coastal Engineering Associates, a Brooksville-based company that has a $1.14-million contract with the School Board for a construction and renovation program.

McIntyre acknowledged Mrs. Runkle's job, but denied there was any conflict of interest.

"I think there's just someone who wants to continue to stir the pot," he said. "Dr. Runkle does not directly supervise the (Coastal) work for us.... There is no cause for embarrassment, nor should there be."

Sanczel's beginnings

Beth Sanczel, the oldest of 10 children, grew up in rural Ohio. Her father died when she was 12, she had her first of five children when she was 16, and by her junior year she had dropped out of high school.

Sanczel later followed her mother from Ohio to Lake County, Fla., where she took courses at the local vocational technical school and received a high school diploma when she was 21.

"I didn't start out with a heck of a lot (except) a lot of good attitude," she said.

Sanczel's later experience included several years as a waitress, one year as a Sears service technician and a job as a graphics artist at Spring Hill's Joni Industries Inc. Her husband is a manager of the Olive Garden restaurant in Port Richey.

She has made her positive attitude a large part of her campaign platform and sees her entry into the School Board race as an inevitable extension of her PTA experience.

"I feel almost compelled toward public service," she has said.

Sanczel is something of a seasoned campaign veteran, having weathered a Republican primary election and a runoff to defeat two opponents. But her campaign style has not changed.

She has continued to accept all contributions, regardless of the source, including those her political opponents say give an appearance of impropriety.

In addition to the contribution from McIntyre's parents, Sanczel has accepted $450 from Cliff Manuel Jr., the president of Coastal Engineering, and $250 from Joe Mason, one of the the county's most prominent attorneys who sometimes represents companies doing business with the School Board.

Sanczel insists, however, that she will feel no obligation to return favors.

"Whoever wants to contribute can, as long as they understand my loyalties are to education," she said.

She likewise dismisses the idea that her administration associations _ she is a friend of Boehme, in addition to having campaigned for McIntyre in 1988 _ will make her an administrative rubber stamp.

"I've seen School Board members, especially Joe DeLena, rubber stamping everything with a reject," she countered.

"To turn around and expect me to rubber stamp everything makes me no better than Joe DeLena.... The whole idea is ludicrous ... and immature."

DeLena is well-known for his consistent opposition to virtually any administration proposal.

Basic issues

Where content is concerned, neither Rowden nor Sanczel offers much that is innovative or unusual.

Rowden supports more decision-making at each school and less from the central administration. She also advocates a reduction in consultant fees (which she says could save millions of dollars), and wants to scrap efforts to accredit elementary and middle schools with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

Sanczel favors more teacher participation in school decisions and more one-on-one teaching, but she backs continuing the SACS accreditation program.

Voters will have to look for differences in style and temperament for guidance.

Sanczel's former boss at Joni Industries, president Gus Guadagnino, describes her as someone who prefers a diplomatic approach to problems. "She is by no means on an ego trip. (School Board) is something she feels she is dedicated for."

Rowden's aggressive campaign style has won her plaudits from many Hernando County residents who feel left out of the political system and has earned her the endorsement of, among others, the local teachers union.

"She came across as a lady of business," said Ed Chester, a member of the union's political action committee.

Pam McDowell, a Delta flight attendant who has worked with Rowden for 19 years, said: "She overwhelms me. She's the highest-energy person I've ever met."

But others are bothered by an attitude they say is divisive and short-sighted.

"I can tell you what my trouble is with Mrs. Rowden, and it has nothing to do with her party," said local Republican consultant and former WWJB radio host Bob Haa.

"I don't think she's running for the School Board to govern. She's running to confront."

Adds Frank Uvanni, who was defeated by Sanczel in the September primary: "It's fine to say, "Down with their heads.' But what are you going to do once the heads come off?"


DIANE ROWDEN, 41, a Delta Air Lines flight attendant for 21 years, grew up in Pinellas County and moved to Hernando County five years ago. She graduated from St. Petersburg High School and attended classes at St. Petersburg Junior College before joining Delta. She is married and has three children. ASSETS: House, stock, checking and saving account, 74-acre macadamia farm in Mount View, Hawaii. LIABILITIES: Two mortgages, home improvement loan. SOURCE OF INCOME: Airline salary and rental property.


BETH SANCZEL, 40, formerly a graphic artist at Joni Industries and a teacher's aide, is a native of Wyandotte, Mich., and grew up in Ohio. She received her high school diploma from Lake County Vo-Tech and has attended classes at Pasco-Hernando Community College. Last year, she was secretary of the Hernando County Council PTA and president of the Pine Grove Elementary School PTA for part of the year. She also is vice president of the First Federation of Republican Women in Hernando County. She is married and has five children. ASSETS: Home. LIABILITIES: Mortgage, two bank loans. SOURCE OF INCOME: Husband's salary.