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Should Hernando elect its school superintendent? Lawmaker says yes.

The school district has had an appointed chief executive since the 1990s. State Rep. Blaise Ingoglia calls for that to change.
From left, the Hernando County legislative delegation of Rep. Ralph Massullo, Sen. Wilton Simpson and Rep. Blaise Ingoglia has approved a local bill calling for the Hernando school superintendent to be an elected post.
From left, the Hernando County legislative delegation of Rep. Ralph Massullo, Sen. Wilton Simpson and Rep. Blaise Ingoglia has approved a local bill calling for the Hernando school superintendent to be an elected post. [ Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Feb. 16, 2021|Updated Feb. 16, 2021

Hernando County voters soon could decide whether they want to elect their school superintendent rather than keep letting School Board members pick the district’s chief executive.

During the county’s legislative delegation meeting Friday, state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia proposed a local bill to convert the appointed position to an elected one. The delegation, which also includes Rep. Ralph Massullo and Sen. Wilton Simpson, supported the measure.

Passage would mean the superintendent job would become a partisan, political post in 2026, for the first time since 1988. Hernando voters stopped electing the superintendent in 1992.

Ingoglia announced his proposal on social media over the weekend.

“I will continue to stand up for the good teachers, the parents and the kids,” he wrote on Facebook. “It’s about time they had a direct say in how our students are educated.”

IMPORTANT! PLEASE READ! Hernando friends, last week at our Hernando County legislative delegation meeting, the...

Posted by Blaise Ingoglia on Sunday, February 14, 2021

He later offered more details about his rationale.

“I’m proposing the bill because it’s clear to me that the current superintendent cares more about what the bad teachers and the school union want than what parents, students and good teachers want,” Ingoglia said via email. “Last year, Superintendent (John) Stratton ‘greenlighted’ the teaching of ‘Black Lives Matter’ marxist principles in the classroom despite overwhelming community uproar. In my opinion, as well as the opinion of many other parents, bringing such a controversial issue into the classroom is the wrong thing to do.”

School Board members, who did not ask for this change, said they were surprised by the bill, which has yet to be filed formally.

“The legislative delegation ... has been extremely supportive of our school district, so this proposal caught us all off guard,” said board member Linda Prescott, who has been researching the history, laws and related topics that tie into superintendent selection. “We have to decide what we are going to do.”

Hernando district officials so far have held their views close. They’ve been working with lawmakers to secure $9.8 million for a new career and technical center, and few want to jeopardize that possibility.

Others outside the system have not been so reluctant.

Former board member Diane Rowden, who helped shepherd the move to an appointed superintendent for the county, criticized the proposal.

“There’s no good time to go back,” Rowden said.

Hernando got rid of the elected superintendent because the position became too highly politicized, she explained. The board would approve actions and the superintendent, who wasn’t accountable to the elected panel, sometimes would simply ignore it, she said.

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Rowden also noted the need to have a professional, rather than a politician, leading the county’s largest employer.

“Somebody can run for superintendent of schools, and all they have to have is a GED,” she said.

Her arguments aligned with those that many others made in recent years as they pushed to eliminate the elected superintendent job in Florida, one of two states that still has such a position. Alabama is the other.

Members of the 2018 Constitution Revision Commission attempted to place a question before voters to have all superintendents be appointed. They contended that superintendent is a professional position and should be treated as such, and not be subject to politics, much less be limited by where a candidate lives.

The measure didn’t reach the ballot statewide.

Related: Elected vs. appointed? Florida’s superintendent selection process gets a closer look

Part of the rationale for not advancing the constitutional amendment was that local school districts already can decide whether they want an elected or appointed schools leader. Since those discussions occurred, voters in Marion, Martin and Escambia counties chose to stop electing their superintendents.

Marion County’s Republican Party chairman, whose wife served on the School Board through 2020, cautioned against Ingoglia’s idea in a Facebook comment.

“We in Marion County just voted to go to an appointed Super. The elected position was a joke,” wrote Rocky Stacy. “One football coach after another with no credentials other than having a winning season. Good luck!!!”

Some residents also mentioned the contentious career of former superintendent Lori Romano, who fought with the board before it removed her in 2018. Waiting for an election could take longer than allowing the elected board to act, they suggested.

By contrast, a Duval County lawmaker attempted in 2020 to take the same path in his county that Ingoglia has called for in Hernando. Critics accused Rep. Jason Fischer, a former Duval School Board member, of “political shenanigans.”

Some speculated he might be looking for a job once his legislative term expires, for instance. Ingoglia said he had “zero interest” in the position. Others observed that some county Republican leaders have openly voiced a desire to put registered party members in positions of authority in the district.

“I’m very concerned about the motives behind this proposal,” board member Susan Duval said of Ingoglia’s bill.

Not everyone views the lawmaker’s proposal as negative. Responding to his Facebook post, several residents offered comments such as “Awesome!” and “Thank you!”

Longtime district critic Pam Everett welcomed the idea, as well.

“I’m for it 100 percent,” Everett said. “I think people will be more cautious and do their due diligence in looking at who runs. ... You’re going to have more involved parents.”

The bill next would go to the Legislature for consideration. If it passes, a referendum would appear on Hernando’s 2022 general election ballot.


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