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Ransaw should go, superintendent says

Hernando County superintendent Wendy Tellone said suspended Powell Middle School principal Michael Ransaw should be fired for "numerous potential acts of misconduct" ranging from a dishonest job application to his behavior in a recent investigation.

Tellone released a copy of that district investigation on Tuesday, as well as her formal recommendation for the School Board to terminate Ransaw.

The district says Ransaw misrepresented himself while applying for a job in Hernando, broke other rules while working as a principal and gave dubious answers to officials investigating him.

"I am disappointed at how unprofessionally you have handled this entire issue by providing false information, half-truths and accusations directed at others," wrote Tellone in a letter describing her reasoning to Ransaw.

The School Board will consider Tellone's request in a special meeting at 1 p.m. Jan 18. Tellone said she would begin searching for a new principal if the School Board approved the dismissal.

Willie Jones, Ransaw's attorney, did not respond to a request for comment.

The district investigation began in November after Hernando officials learned of a state inquiry that said Ransaw pawned a $2,500 school laptop for $250 while working as an assistant principal in Broward County in fall 2001. After discovering what Ransaw had done, Broward officials suspended him without pay for 10 days and demoted him to teacher status in 2002.

Soon afterward, Ransaw took a leave of absence from Broward. He was hired by Hernando that fall. Tellone said Ransaw and his references never disclosed the Broward incident.

According to court records and other public documents, Ransaw faced a host of personal financial problems around the time he pawned the laptop in Broward. Those issues included having his paycheck garnisheed for child support and delinquent car payments. Ransaw has since married the child's mother.

State officials can still levy a penalty against Ransaw that could be as mild as a reprimand or as harsh as a revocation of his educator's certificate. Ransaw has informed state officials that he would like to negotiate a settlement.

Tellone suspended Ransaw with pay on Nov. 19 after learning of the state inquiry. Despite emotional pleas by his supporters, the School Board voted Dec. 14 to suspend Ransaw without pay until district officials finished their investigation.

While Tellone's description of the investigation's finding describes several reasons to fire Ransaw, it also cites other incidents that raise concern but do not merit disciplinary action.

The documents released by Tellone on Tuesday also included letters from supporters of Ransaw lauding the many changes he made at Powell: selecting the panther as the new mascot, imposing stricter disciplinary regulations, enacting changes in the curriculum.

Still, other documents describe how Ransaw disguised the details of his past and violated various regulations while working in Hernando. According to district records, Ransaw committed some of his biggest errors, such as deleting public records from district computers, after he learned of Tellone's plans to look into his behavior.

The district's litany of Ransaw's offenses begins several years earlier, in May 2002, with his first inquiry for a job in Hernando County. Ransaw applied for the assistant principal position at Nature Coast Technical High School but was not hired. Hernando officials said he did not disclose in his correspondence and resume that he had been demoted from assistant principal to teacher status in Broward.

In fall 2002, Ransaw was hired as an assistant principal at Pine Grove Elementary School. District officials found another evasion in his security background check form. They said Ransaw failed to disclose the state's plans to investigate his conduct in Broward and possibly take action against his educator's certificate.

Ransaw and his attorney informed Hernando officials that he had never received a November 2001 notice from the state saying it would investigate his conduct in Broward since the letter had been obtained by his brother, who has been declared incompetent. Hernando officials said they had requested legal evidence of the condition from Ransaw, but he never submitted it.

In February 2003, Tellone announced Ransaw would be the next principal of Powell Middle School. But even after getting that job, Hernando officials say Ransaw violated other district procedures.

According to Tellone's accounting of charges, Ransaw took several pieces of district equipment without properly checking them out. After he was suspended, Ransaw returned two district computers, two cell phones, two Palm Pilots, a fax machine, a laser printer, a stereo CD and casette player and the school radio.

Jones said in a recent interview that his client needed the equipment, which he checked out properly, because he was "a workaholic."

District officials began investigating the contents of the equipment since most principals usually have a laptop, cell phone and Palm Pilot. They say Ransaw used the gadgets for personal matters, violating School Board policy, even taking the Powell office cell phone home and depriving officials at the school "of a necessary piece of school equipment."

In explaining her decision to recommend Ransaw's termination, Tellone said Ransaw used district equipment to make multiple social calls to a female teacher. The calls were at unusual times, such as 12:50 a.m., 1:56 a.m., and 2:05 a.m., she said.

The Powell teacher told district officials that she socialized with Ransaw and went "out and had drinks" with him and other staff members several times at Channelside in Tampa and Scores in Spring Hill.

Tellone also noted the equipment had been returned to the district this December only after numerous documents and files, including public records, had been deleted. Florida law forbids district employees from deleting public records.

"You initially stated that all documents on your computer were your work product and therefore yours to destroy. Such is not legally correct and does not comply with Board policy," Tellone wrote.

In June 2004, while employed as principal of Powell Middle, Ransaw responded to another letter from state officials warning him of the investigation. He wrote back asking them to "consider dismissing this current complaint."

Ransaw never notified district officials about his correspondence with the state. Tellone wrote that Ransaw was "not truthful" about his contact with the state when talking to her this November.

The School Board's decision may still not be the end of their dealings with Ransaw, especially if he tries to contest the ruling. Jones, Ransaw's attorney, said he had already filed a complaint charging Tellone with treating his client unfairly.

But the investigation formally marks the end of any cordial ties between Tellone and a principal she said had done much good at Powell even as she first suspended him in November.

In a letter to her on Nov. 17, Ransaw wrote: "Maintaining your respect and trust is very important to me and will continue to be my cardinal objective!"

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

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