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Superintendent seeks voice in Tallahassee

Pasco County Superintendent Heather Fiorentino plans to hire a Tallahassee lobbying firm for the school district before the end of February.

"We need to make sure we get our bang for the buck on this," the former state legislator told School Board members during a three-hour workshop Tuesday.

For the past two years, the district paid $30,000 annually to the Florida School Boards Association to have former Pasco assistant superintendent John Gaines act as the district's lobbyist, finance chief Chuck Rushe said.

With Gaines now fully retired, Fiorentino said she would like to contract with someone who lives in Tallahassee, who can "wine and dine" lawmakers without requiring meal and travel reimbursements, and who knows the system inside and out.

"Those who know the rules can play the game," Fiorentino said. Gaines lived in Pasco County and commuted for the job.

Fiorentino did not say how much she planned to spend on a lobbying firm. After the meeting, she said she had some firms in mind but could not recall their names. She said she hoped to put it out for bid and bring it to the board for approval in February.

"I'm neutral on this," board Chairman Marge Whaley said during the workshop. "I don't think that it's been ideal in the past. I guess for me it would come down to money."

Newly elected Fiorentino faced some criticism from the board after she hired a consultant for $5,000 to assist with the transition into her new job.

Fiorentino told the board Tuesday that the consultant, Tallahassee attorney Robin Safely, notified her that she would be ending her consulting relationship with the district.

Though Safely spent one day with Fiorentino in Pasco County, Fiorentino told the Times that she had held off on signing the contract with Safely due to what appeared to be a conflict in Safely's schedule. The district will not be charged, Fiorentino said.

"I hope and trust that we will continue to have informal discussions and that I may provide you with support as you feel appropriate," Safely wrote in a letter received by the district Jan. 3.

The superintendent said she plans to move forward with a $9,000 Florida Association of District School Superintendents audit Feb. 28 to March 4. A team of experts will examine every aspect of district operations before making recommendations for change.

Fiorentino said she hopes to use the agency's input to alter the district's organization.

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