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Teacher up against tall odds

Published Oct. 18, 2005

Jeff Stabins already has pulled off one upset in his bid for the Hernando County School Board, and by his own account he will have to pull off another if he is to win the District 3 School Board seat in November. The Republican candidate defeated incumbent Louise Boehme in September.

Now, Stabins, 30, a history teacher at Hernando High for three years, faces Democrat Nancy Gordon, 56, a retired Southern Bell executive who worked her way up the corporate ladder after signing on as a telephone operator in 1951.

"I'm definitely an underdog _ have been from day one," said Stabins, who has lived in Hernando County for three years.

Gordon's roots in the county stretch back three decades.

Her three children, in their mid-20s and 30s, attended public school in the county. She was a charter board member of the Hernando County Mental Health Center, served on the county's Zoning Board of Appeals and has been a member of the Hernando Association for Retarded Citizens.

Her former colleagues at Southern Bell describe her in glowing terms.

"It means that I've got to work 18 hours a day instead of 12," Stabins said. "In the morning I'm raising money; in the afternoon I'm writing letters."

If the number of contributors translates into votes, the efforts have paid off.

Stabins lists some 100 individual campaign contributors, most of whom donated small sums. Their contributions total about $4,000. In addition, Stabins loaned his campaign $950, financial reports indicate.

Gordon has raised about the same amount, but with far fewer contributors and more than $2,000 of her own money.

Her low-key campaign contrasts with Stabins', whose posters _ bearing his red-apple teachers' symbol _ are planted throughout the county.

Stabins defeated Boehme by a surprisingly strong 58 percent to 42 percent.

In part, Boehme fell victim to the same anti-incumbent sentiment that knocked two incumbent county commissioners out of office, but Stabins also was helped by a political action committee (PAC) that School Board candidate Diane Rowden and her husband, Jay, set up to unseat Boehme.

The PAC, financed almost entirely by Jay Rowden, raised and spent $5,790. It was dissolved after Boehme's defeat.

Stabins, who no longer can count on that financial support, is running with another handicap as well.

Although he was a Hernando High School representative for the county teachers union, the union's political action committee threw its support behind Gordon.

"He was near the bottom of our list of candidates," said union president Dennis Caltagirone. He said the committee thought Stabins' knowledge of School Board subjects other than teacher-related issues was insufficient.

"Just because a man is a lawyer doesn't mean I vote for him for Congress," Caltagirone said.

Stabins openly was disappointed at not winning the endorsement and last week said Caltagirone was to blame.

"He's a prissy prima donna. . . . He sees me as a threat to the position of teacher advocate for the county," Stabins said.

Stabins is fond of making sweeping statements about the school district administration, which he accuses of bad communication, wasteful spending and a bloated bureaucracy.

"My biggest point right now is that we are not providing a quality education based on the amount of money (spent). . . . Taxpayers are getting ripped off, and students are being shortchanged."

In a written campaign platform, Stabins said that, if elected, he would follow administrative personnel through their day, "constantly searching for ways to make them more efficient, more useful and more responsive."

Gordon, who defeated Michael Frazier by a 2-1 margin in the Democratic primary, has stressed the need for a permanent advisory council whose members, selected by Parent-Teacher Associations, would receive the same information packets as board members and advise the board on decisions.

She also wants to evaluate hiring and firing guidelines and decentralize some maintenance department functions.

Both candidates say they are in favor of building a new vocational-technical school.

Gordon said her years with Southern Bell, including the last 12 as a senior engineer/planner, have given her the financial expertise to handle the School Board's $100-million budget.

"She's extremely good; she's extremely knowledgeable," said Karen Henning, an assistant manager of construction for Southern Bell who has known Gordon for 10 years.

Although her formal education stopped after she graduated from Miami's Edison High School in 1951, Gordon said she has taken managerial training and personal development courses with Southern Bell.

Stabins grew up in Watertown, N.Y., went to Watertown High School, and three colleges before attending State University of New York at Albany, where he graduated with a history and political science degree.

Three years later, in 1986, he received his master's in education from St. Lawrence University and moved to Florida. In addition to his history classes, Stabins was the girls' golf coach.

Colleagues of Stabins, who took a leave of absence to run for the School Board, gave him high marks as a teacher and said he has been well-liked by his students.

But his relative youth and inexperience are viewed by some as a handicap.

"Stabins is a fine young man," said Derrill McAteer, who is executive vice president of Lykes Development Corp. and has donated money to both Stabins' and Gordon's campaigns.

"I told him I didn't think he had the experience _ but that I hope he stays around."


NANCY GORDON, 56, is a senior management engineer for long-range planning at Southern Bell in Brooksville. She graduated from Edison High School in Miami and moved to Hernando County 30 years ago. Gordon joined the telephone company as a long-distance operator after high school and has worked there since. She is divorced and has three children. ASSETS: Stock, bonds, management savings program, home. LIABILITIES: Loans, mortgage. SOURCES OF INCOME: Southern Bell salary, rent, interest, dividends.


JEFF STABINS, 30, a native of Watertown, N.Y., took a leave of absence as a history teacher at Hernando High School to run for School Board. Stabins also has been girls golf coach at Hernando High for two seasons. He moved to Hernando County three years ago. Stabins is a graduate of State University of New York at Albany and has a master's degree from St. Lawrence University. He has taught at Hernando High for three years. He is single. ASSETS: Two mutual funds, savings. LIABILITIES: None. SOURCE OF INCOME: Savings from teaching salary.