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SCHOOL BOARD NEWS

The Citrus County School Board took action on several fronts Tuesday evening. Here are the details:

DRUG TESTING: The board tabled a controversial pre-employment drug testing policy after a legal question was raised.

Throughout the multiyear discussion of such a policy, the board had talked about the high cost of testing all applicants. On Tuesday, Superintendent Pete Kelly suggested that substitute teachers pay their own testing costs. Board Chairwoman Patience Nave asked whether the district could require all applicants, not just substitutes, to pay for their own drug test as they must pay to be fingerprinted.

Personnel director Sam Stiteler told the board that she had recently talked to someone representing a testing company and he had told her that, with all the products available today that alter the validity of drug tests, the board would be wasting money to approve the policy.

"I don't think we can afford to do any of this," said board member Pat Deutschman, who has been opposed to the testing policy. "Even the man who does the test says it's a waste of money."

Bill Humbaugh, the district's executive director of support services, warned the board that the system is already having trouble attracting bus drivers. If the board changes the policy and requires employees to pay for their own drug tests, that could make finding future drivers even tougher, he said.

Bus drivers have been tested for drugs both when they apply and randomly after they are hired for several years because it is required by law, and the district pays for those tests.

The board tabled the discussion when board member Carl Hansen noted that changing who pays for the tests might be a major change in the policy proposal. By law, a major change in a proposal requires the district to hold another public hearing before adopting the idea.

Since the school board attorney was not in attendance to advise on the issue, the board agreed to table it by a 4-1 vote. Only board member Mark Stone, who had originally proposed the drug-testing policy several years ago, voted against the delay.

BUDGET WORKSHOP: Board member Sandra "Sam" Himmel asked the board to consider setting up another budget workshop before it takes a final vote on the spending plan after a Sept. 14 public hearing.

Himmel and Deutschman both said they wanted to see the district find other ways to increase the small unreserved fund balance in the budget. A workshop was set for 11 a.m. Aug. 31.

WORKER SUSPENDED: The board also approved a suspension agreement with maintenance worker Gerald Leverne, who had been suspended by the board without pay last month pending a termination hearing.

He was accused of failing to do his job, insubordination and leaving his work without authorization.

Under the agreement reached among Leverne, his attorney and school officials, he will have taken a 20-day suspension without pay, which ends Friday, and he will return to work Saturday. He will also not lose any continuity for purposes of benefits and retirement.

Leverne will face a plan of improvement "designed to include his work attitude and relationship with fellow employees and supervisors," according to the letter school board attorney Richard "Spike" Fitzpatrick wrote to Leverne's attorney.

"Although the quality of Mr. Leverne's work has been acceptable, his past attitudes and reluctance to accept directions from his supervisors creates concern and requires improvement," Fitzpatrick wrote.

"As you are aware, Mr. Leverne has previously participated in two plans for improvement resulting from similar weaknesses in work attitude and willingness to follow instructions and directions of supervisors."

The board's action to accept the agreement cancels an administrative hearing that had been scheduled before them on Friday.

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