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Principal's use of office equipment raises questions

Newly released records suggest Hernando County's investigation of suspended Powell Middle School principal Michael Ransaw concerns not only his job application and another state inquiry, but also his use of enough district equipment to fill a shopping cart.

School Board attorney Karen Gaffney released a transcript of Ransaw's Dec. 7 predisciplinary hearing Wednesday, which provides new details of the issues district officials are examining before the School Board formally decides his fate Jan. 18.

According to the transcript and other records provided by Gaffney, Hernando school officials are examining the quantity of district-owned equipment Ransaw had, as well as when he first knew about a state investigation of his conduct in Broward County in 2001.

Nov. 19, Superintendent Wendy L. Tellone suspended Ransaw with pay after learning of a recent state investigation that found he pawned a $2,500 laptop for $250 in 2001 while working as an assistant principal in Deerfield Beach. The state investigation largely mirrored an earlier inquiry in Broward. Officials there suspended Ransaw without pay for 10 days and demoted him to teacher status. The state could take a range of actions against Ransaw's educator certificate.

Hernando officials said Ransaw and his references never disclosed the Broward incident when he applied for a local job. The newly released records make clear that district officials also are investigating actions Ransaw might have taken in Hernando. Those records say Ransaw knew he was under investigation by the state months before he was suspended by Hernando officials and he deleted documents and files, including public records, before returning equipment to the district.

Ransaw returned to the district one laptop, one laptop-desktop, two laptop batteries, two cell phones, two Palm Pilots, a LaserJet printer, a business-class laser fax, a stereo compact disc player-casette recorder and a radio, according to records.

School officials said they investigated the contents of the equipment since most principals carry a laptop, a cell phone and, maybe, a Palm Pilot.

Hernando officials said their inquiry found that Ransaw had deleted numerous documents from the computers, including public records, a possible violation of the state's open records law.

Any electronic document made or received in connection with official school business is considered a public record under Florida law. Documents of a personal nature, such as e-mail to a family member, generally would be not be public. But the School Board prohibits employees from using district-owned equipment, such as laptops and cell phones, for personal use.

"Mr. Ransaw deleted all of the documents from his computers, his work-related computers that apparently contained at least some school business records," Gaffney said at the Dec. 7 hearing.

In an interview Wednesday, Ransaw's attorney Willie Jones said his client had checked out all of the equipment through proper channels and needed it at home because he was "a workaholic." Jones also said Ransaw had only deleted personal work files on the laptops that could be found on a desktop computer in his office.

But Hernando officials found only a handful of files on the desktop that matched files on Ransaw's laptop. Jones said he had learned through sources that files on the desktop had been deleted, though district officials did not come across any evidence that such was the case.

During the hearing, Gaffney also addressed Ransaw's personal use of district equipment. She quoted from a text message Ransaw received Nov. 14 on a district cell phone that said: "I will not text dirty thoughts to a married man, but I will let you know I think about you often and appreciate my B-day wish."

Jones said Ransaw never used his cell phone for text-messaging and noted the message could have been sent erroneously. He also maintained that the district had acted rashly in immediately suspending Ransaw.

"They're on a witch hunt," Jones said.

During the hearing, Jones acknowledged that Ransaw was aware this summer that the state Department of Education was investigating the Broward incident and that he responded to that letter from the state in June 2004.

But Jones said during the Dec. 7 hearing that the state's notice did not say it was initiating any action against Ransaw's educator's certificate. Instead Jones said the state was only investigating the Broward incident.

Despite emotional pleas from Ransaw's supporters, the School Board suspended him without pay Dec. 14 until district officials finished examining his conduct.

Jones said he was asking for a formal hearing from the School Board before initiating any contact with state officials. He also said he has launched a complaint against Tellone's handling of the matter. Gaffney said the district's investigation should be finished by Jan. 18, when the School Board could rule on Ransaw's fate.

Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at or 352-848-1431.