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Custodian suspended after drug, DUI arrest

A Brooksville Elementary School custodian has been suspended without pay by the school district after being arrested on driving under the influence and marijuana charges.

James V. Brown, 50, of 750 S Lemon Ave., Brooksville, was arrested March 1 during a traffic stop at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Josephine Street in Brooksville. He was pulled over for having an expired tag, according to a Hernando County Sheriff's Office report.

Brown had bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and exhibited poor balance as he got out of his pickup, the report said. The deputy at the scene said Brown told him he had a couple of drinks.

After the arrest, deputies searched the car and found a small amount of marijuana, according to the report. Brown told deputies the bag and its contents were his, the report said.

Brown, a school district employee for 20 years, was charged with DUI and possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana, both misdemeanors. The School Board voted Tuesday night to suspend him without pay, pending the outcome of his case.

Brown could not be reached for comment.

Group gives $10,000 to environmental center

BROOKSVILLE _ A new environmental education center being planned for the banks of the Weeki Wachee River is getting a $10,000 boost from the Junior Service League of Brooksville.

League president Angie Woodruff said her organization wanted to support the center because it will teach children about the natural history of Florida. Woodruff said it didn't hurt that league member Jennie Dill, a science teacher at West Hernando Middle School, is "consumed" with enthusiasm for the project.

School officials announced last summer that the Southwest Florida Water Management District, better known as Swiftmud, was willing to provide $750,000 for the construction of an environmental education center.

Swiftmud wants students to learn more about their local watershed. School officials also want it to be a base for river excursions, nature walks and field research.

While the schools will provide a teacher for the center and transportation to the center, they intend to rely on private gifts to buy outdoor gear, research equipment and to help pay for a second teacher.

Officials hope the center will be open by early 2003.

Free counseling added

to employee benefits

BROOKSVILLE _ The School Board on Tuesday approved a new program that would give all 2,000 school district employees and their family members access to free counseling services starting April 1.

Counseling for mental health problems, marriage and family issues, and substance abuse would be provided, as well as clinical social work. Each employee and each member of his or her family would be entitled to four free counseling visits a year, plus an initial phone contact.

Initially, the program will cost the district $23,750 for the next 15 months.

The board voted 4-1 for the program. Board member Sandra Nicholson opposed it. Previously, she expressed concerns about it being beyond the scope of the school district's mission. On Tuesday, she said the new benefit should have been a chip to bargain with during union negotiations.

Board member Gail David thanked Superintendent Wendy Tellone for proposing the program as a way to head off employee disciplinary and absentee problems before they start. David said if the program stops one case of child abuse or other destructive behaviors, it will be money well spent.

Merit pay for

teachers approved

BROOKSVILLE _ Hernando County teachers will be able to boost their salary next year by 5 percent if they can meet the performance requirements of a new merit pay plan the School Board reluctantly approved Tuesday night.

Board members were disgruntled because the state Legislature is requiring the program but did not provide money to pay for it. School officials estimate that if every teacher qualified for merit pay, the plan would cost the district nearly $2-million.

Board Chairman John Druzbick voted against the plan, which passed 4-1. But he agreed with other members that it would have been irresponsible for the entire board to reject the Legislature's mandate because it could put other state money in jeopardy.

Teachers would be eligible for the merit pay if they score 95 out of 100 on a checklist that factors in principal evaluations, efforts to get further training, evidence that their students are learning, job attendance and things they do beyond the classroom.