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School Board races ring bitter, genteel // SCHOOL BOARD

Published Jul. 6, 2006

People will do anything to get elected.

That is Jim Malcolm's belief about Mary Jo Artura, one of his opponents in Tuesday's District 4 School Board race.

Malcolm, the Republican incumbent, says Artura, a no-party candidate, ended their four-year friendship just so she could make another run for political office.

"She called me in November or December and asked me if I was going to run for the Board of County Commissioners because if I was then she wanted to run for my (School Board) seat," Malcolm recalled. "But, she didn't want to run against me because she thought I was doing a terrific job. A month later after that telephone call, she announces that she is running for my seat. I asked her about it, and she said to me, "I've got to run for something.' "

They haven't talked since.

The only time they see each other these days is at candidate forums, where Artura, who ran unsuccessfully for School Board in 1992 and County Commission in 1994, has been chipping away at Malcolm's job performance.

Relying heavily on her experience as a school advisory council member and PTA president, Artura says Malcolm is out of touch with the classrooms and is not doing the job he was elected to do.

"I feel that my opponent is using the School Board (post) for his own agenda," she said. "I don't feel that his first and foremost needs are the education of the children."

Malcolm, who is completing his first term on the board, defends his record, saying he often visits schools to talk with employees and students, and he puts students' needs at the top of his priority list.

"Is there any bad blood there? No," Malcolm said. "Is she getting nasty on the campaign trail now? Yes. Is she distorting my record? Absolutely. It's an amazing tack that she is developing."

Artura begs to differ.

"I certainly don't go home and socialize with Jim Malcolm. However, from looking at the board meetings and looking at the way he votes on his issues this to me is his (job performance). This is how I feel."

Along with Democrat Lester Nichols, the two contenders are vying for the $22,171-a-year post, and they are not holding anything back.

"At candidate forums, it's not a debate, it's an attack. You can't stand up and refute what the person just said about you," Malcolm said. "All I do is ignore that and focus on the positive."

After frequently having mud flung in his face by opponent Anna Calleri in the weeks before the Republican runoff, newcomer Jerry Milby said he appreciates that he and Democrat Dominick Ruggiero have taken the high road in their race for the District 2 School Board seat.

"I think the voters have sent out a very clear message that they are interested in the issues, not character assassinations," said Milby, who won a sweeping victory over Calleri. "So my platform has focused on a positive style of leadership."

Ruggiero agreed.

"It was a class act, and we didn't attack one another," Ruggiero said. "I think we stuck to the issues whereas the others have attacked each other personally."

The two men are vying to replace Gail Coleman, who decided not to seek re-election after serving one term.

Neither candidate proposes sweeping changes in the district, though they agree on the need to improve the board's public image and the quality of education.

Here is more on the candidates in both races and their platforms:

District 2

Milby, a real estate agent, has made few changes to his platform since he announced his candidacy last spring. His priorities include expanding the line of communication between the board and the public, pursuing intergovernmental agreements with the County Commission and urging the state Legislature to provide more funding to the district.

The former substitute teacher plans to accomplish his goals by "recognizing the dignity and respect for each individual and the importance of facilitating an atmosphere of tolerance and acceptance."

Milby's education and theological training are the catalyst behind his objectives. His professional experience includes a 13-year stint in the Army as a helicopter pilot and flight instructor, time as an adjunct professor, and managing a Christian music and book store in California. He has a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's degree in divinity.

He has used his theological training in a number of capacities, including ministering at a hospital and teaching theology.

Since moving to Hernando County in 1990, Milby has become involved with Spring Hill United Church of Christ, the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce, the Lions Club of Spring Hill and other civic organizations, and has volunteered in district schools and served on Central High School's advisory council.

Milby has won the recommendations of the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association, the Florida Veterans Political Action Committee and the Hernando County Association of Realtors.

While this is Milby's first time seeking political office, Ruggiero is an old hand at serving the public.

Ruggiero was a founder and the first president-elect of the non-instructional workers union for the Washington Township school district in New Jersey and was also elected to the School Board there in 1994.

"Every position I've held all of those positions required strong leadership," Ruggiero said. "I have strong, really strong leadership and negotiation skills. You don't become a leader without having some skill of compromise and the ability to manage. That is what brings stability to the board, which I would do."

Ruggiero's time on the board in New Jersey was cut short because of a string of personal crises. One of the tragedies that prompted Ruggiero's resignation after only a year on the board was the death of his grandniece.

Because the health care company for the girl's mother would not allow a two-night stay in the hospital, the infant died of a simple illness that could have been prevented, he said.

Ruggiero made it his personal crusade to require health care companies to allow for longer post-natal care, writing letters to New Jersey Gov. Christine Whitman and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, who mentioned Ruggiero in her best-selling book, It Takes a Village.

Ruggiero moved to Spring Hill last year after retiring as a bus operator for the New Jersey Transit System, where he served as the chairman of the board of the Peoples Federal Credit Union for transit workers.

Ruggiero became active in the school system by joining the school advisory council and Parent-Teacher Association at Westside Elementary School, where his granddaughter is a pupil. He also serves on several district committees.

His priorities as a board member would be to create smaller class sizes, allocate more textbooks for students and expand technology in the schools.

"The only promise I can make is to always act in the best interest of the students, taxpayers and employees of this board," said Ruggiero, who has accepted the endorsement of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the United Auto Workers.

District 4

Incumbent Jim Malcolm doesn't believe he is unbeatable.

A win in the 1992 election by a mere two votes has taught him not to be too confident, despite winning the endorsements of the local teachers union, the Realtors association and the Communication Workers of America.

However, Malcolm does believe he has done an admirable job that has made him deserving of another term.

"I set out to make improvements in this school system, and I think I have done so," said Malcolm, who holds a master's degree in social studies.

He said that a lot of the improvements that have been made in the district, such as controlling the spiraling costs of the ongoing Hernando High School renovation/construction project, have been a team effort by the board.

Yet Malcolm, who taught school in another state for 11 years, does take personal credit for decreasing the number of change orders on construction projects, revising the board agenda to make it more useful to the public and increasing the number of board workshops in order to have more in-depth discussions on school business.

If re-elected, he promises to work toward eliminating what he calls "fluff courses," such as aerobics and driver's education, and replacing them with more substantive academic courses.

Malcolm said he will work toward regrouping the present grade levels to kindergarten through third grade, fourth through six grades, seventh through ninth grades, and 10th through 12th grades.

He believes such a plan would provide for smoother student transitions from one level to another. Also, he says, it would relieve classroom overcrowding and could save on the construction of new schools. However, district administrators estimate such a plan would cost an additional $45.5-million.

"My agenda is to do whatever it takes to improve education in Hernando County," Malcolm said. "I think my agenda is the correct one."

Malcolm's two challengers paint a different picture. They say he is self-serving and has not put the interests of children first.

Nichols said money motivated Malcolm to accept the job of Brooksville city manager in 1993 after being a city planner for six years.

"When he got elected (to the School Board), was he going to try to improve the school system or try to take on another full-time job?" Nichols asked. "Why would the man keep two positions? I think I know why. Why do most people work a second job?"

Malcolm resigned as city manager after a year because the state determined that Florida law did not allow him to hold both positions. His School Board position is his only current job.

Meanwhile, Artura, a mental health technician at Greenbrier Hospital, said Malcolm is "contradictive and argumentative" with his colleagues and is too involved in the day-to-day operation of the school district.

"I would not be running for this position if I didn't feel that he was doing a good job," said Artura. "I would not run for this position if I did not feel that I could do a better job."

She wants the county to have a vocational school, but she opposes building new schools. Instead, she believes officials should look into the possibility of having double sessions at middle and high schools.

Artura said the fact that she filed for bankruptcy protection three years ago does not mean she is incapable of handling taxpayers' money.

In 1993, Artura filed the bankruptcy because she could not pay the mortgage on a 5,000-square-foot building she owned with her husband. She had trouble renting the building, which she said she bought with money she had saved for years.

"I'm real good with money," said Artura, who has received the backing of the Florida Veterans Political Action Committee. "Unfortunately, the economy took a turn, and a lot of the businesses failed."

Nichols, a retired businessman, has known nothing but success during his days as a Dairy Queen franchise owner and hotel developer.

He said he joined the School Board race because he wanted to serve the community, and he believed his entrepreneurial skills would be an asset to the board.

"I'm not looking for political gain. I'm not looking for money," said Nichols. "I'm not looking for anything except to help the system and the children. That's the reason I ran. For no other reason but that."

Nichols opposes the building of a new $3-million centralized transportation complex and cites it as an example of the district's excessive spending.

If elected, Nichols promises to bring better efficiency to the district because "once you get efficiency, fiscal restraint is there."

Nichols is the only School Board candidate to have a child enrolled in a private school.

"I feel like (his 10-year-old son) can get a better education. I'm sure he is. And I hate to say that," Nichols said. "I'd like him to be in public school. But I know he's learning."

Last month, Nichols' family life drew attention when a circuit judge found probable cause that Nichols violated the terms of a domestic violence injunction order that was issued in September.

Nichols' estranged wife, Estela, accused him of repeatedly violating the court order by cutting off hot water to their home and threatening to slap her and shoot her.

Nichols is scheduled to appear in court on Nov. 20, six days after a hearing in the couple's divorce case.

Nichols said voters should not let his personal affairs interfere with the race.

"Let's face it," he said. "If my qualifications are there, this shouldn't have any effect on my ability to serve."

School Board District 2


JERRY MILBY, 48, is a real estate agent for ERA Pearson Realty. He was an adjunct professor at Bethesda School of Theology in California, an Army ROTC instructor at Stetson University and a chaplain before he moved to Spring Hill in 1990. He is also a retired Army major who served in the Vietnam War as a helicopter pilot. He and his wife have three grown sons. ASSETS: house, car, stock. LIABILITIES: student loan and home mortgage. SOURCE OF INCOME: employment as a real estate agent.


DOMINICK A. RUGGIERO JR., 63, is a retired bus operator from New Jersey. In 1994, Ruggiero was elected as a member of the Washington Township Board of Education in Turnersville, N.J., but he resigned after a year for personal reasons. He also was the first president of the non-instructional workers union for the Washington Township. Ruggiero and his wife live in Spring Hill and have three adult children and eight grandchildren. ASSETS: home and a car. LIABILITIES: loan and home mortgage. SOURCE OF INCOME: Social Security and retirement pension.

School Board District 4


MARYJO ARTURA, 46, was born and raised in Long Island, N.Y. A professional ice skater for 13 years and a travel agent for 10 years, Artura is now a mental health technician at Greenbrier Hospital west of Brooksville. Artura is involved in numerous civic and school groups and was selected as an Olympic torchbearer this year. Artura ran unsuccessfully for the Hernando County School Board in 1992 and for the County Commission in 1994. She is married and has two children. ASSETS: home and car. LIABILITIES: mortgage. SOURCE OF INCOME: mental health technician salary.


JIM MALCOLM, 53, is a native of Connecticut. A former teacher, Malcolm was elected to the School Board in 1992. Before serving on the board, Malcolm was a planner for the city of Brooksville before being hired as the city manager. He resigned after a year because the job conflicted with his duties as a board member. He and his wife have two teenage sons and live south of Brooksville. ASSETS: two homes, lake cottage, stocks. LIABILITIES: loan. SOURCE OF INCOME: School Board salary.


LESTER NICHOLS, 73, is a retired businessman who moved to Spring Hill a decade ago. A native of Missouri, He taught for seven years before he became an entrepreneur. He is married and has five children. ASSETS: two homes, investments, land, stocks, bonds, savings and cash. LIABILITIES: mortgage. SOURCES OF INCOME: Social Security and investments.