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WTI head an affront to superintendent, students

Which Pete Kelly are Citrus County residents to believe?

Should they take the word of the superintendent who last year promised to correct serious problems at Withlacoochee Technical Institute and then monitor the school's adherence to his warnings?

Or should they believe the Pete Kelly who admitted last week that he never followed up on his promise and who, even when presented with clear evidence of repeated policy violations, blindly backed the school's defiant director, Steve Kinard?

More than a year ago, a Times investigation revealed numerous policy and procedural violations at WTI, particularly in the auto repair shop. Among those findings were Kinard's habit of allowing his friends and relatives to have their cars serviced and repaired by students at reduced charges, poor record-keeping and questionable billing practices. Based on those findings, Kelly reprimanded Kinard and assured the School Board that he would "closely monitor" the situation to ensure that his directives were being followed.

But Kelly did not. Apparently, he didn't even instruct anyone else to do it for him.

Now, a second Times investigation has documented that problems at WTI are more rampant than ever. According to the report published Sunday, Kinard is still tying up students' learning time with requests to perform routine maintenance on his friends' cars and also is failing to document many of those repairs. In addition, according to one former teacher at the school, Kinard even held a meeting a year ago to assure his staff he had no intention of changing his ways.

Kinard's explanation for his actions? None. He refused to answer any questions from Times reporters.

Kelly's explanation? He took Kinard's word that everything was going fine at WTI.

If that's what passes for accountability and follow-up in the Citrus County School District, we all should be concerned about how little the superintendent knows, or cares, about what's going on in the schools.

Kelly has a responsibility to thoroughly investigate the latest evidence and report back to the School Board. Furthermore, the board has a responsibility to demand a detailed explanation and to hold Kelly liable for allowing a key staff member to ignore policies.

Kelly's management style has taken some serious blows lately, including his decision to fire Assistant Superintendent Tom Maher, who may have lost his job because he impugned Kelly's controversial plan to reorganize the administrative staff. But if disagreement is grounds for dismissal, one wonders how Kelly can be so tolerant of Kinard's deceit.

It has become painfully evident that Kelly is exercising his own brand of favoritism by allowing Kinard to operate with no oversight, even when his practices are in question. Perhaps Kelly is trying to protect an old friend and former boss (Kelly worked at the school for more than a decade before being elected superintendent) by refusing to take action against Kinard. While that type of personal loyalty may be rooted in good intentions, it should not play a role in how Kelly carries out his duties as a public servant.

Kinard's insubordinate attitude is an affront to Kelly, the board members and, most important, the students who are being cheated out of an opportunity to learn all they can. Such unrestrained audacity is outrageous and undermines the authority of Kelly and the board.

Kinard should resign as director of WTI. A person with such a defiant, arrogant attitude, and who so casually misuses his authority, does not deserve the public's trust. If he won't resign, Kelly should fully _ and personally, if necessary _ conduct the investigation.

If Kelly finds that Kinard disobeyed his instructions, he should fire him. If he does not, then Kelly must be prepared to sacrifice the expectations of truthfulness and compliance from any of his principals.