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Hernando School Board opposes push to return to elected superintendent

An appointed district leader is more accountable to the board, and can be removed more easily when problems arise, board members say.
Hernando County School Board member Susan Duval and superintendent John Stratton wear masks during a special board meeting in July. The board approved a resolution this week opposing a lawmaker's push to turn the superintendent's job into an elected position.
Hernando County School Board member Susan Duval and superintendent John Stratton wear masks during a special board meeting in July. The board approved a resolution this week opposing a lawmaker's push to turn the superintendent's job into an elected position. [ MARLENE SOKOL | Times (2020) ]
Published Feb. 24
Updated Feb. 24

Hernando County School Board members have given the thumbs down to a legislative proposal that would return the district superintendent’s job to an elected post.

Saying the school system should be run by a professional executive, and not a politician, the board on Tuesday unanimously adopted a resolution opposing the local bill advocated by state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia and supported by the county’s legislative delegation.

“Hernando County has 27 schools, more than 22,000 students and nearly 3,000 employees. Any corporation that large would surely search for the most qualified candidate with superior executive skills to run day-to-day operations,” board chairwoman Linda Prescott said in a letter to reporters.

Related: Should Hernando elect its school superintendent? Lawmaker says yes.

The district has made progress in recent years, with its graduation rate and test scores on the rise, Prescott added, and the board and superintendent have a positive working relationship.

“Now is not the time to take a step backwards toward a more heated and divisive political environment,” she said.

Hernando had an elected superintendent until 1992, when voters chose to transform the post into an appointed one. Activists at the time said too much politics had seeped into the office, with the superintendent often ignoring the directions of the board.

Ingoglia suggested that the current superintendent had gone too far the other way, listening to only a handful of people without regard for “what parents, students and good teachers want.” He mentioned a situation where superintendent John Stratton did not discipline a teacher who used Black Lives Matter materials in class.

Ingogolia brought the measure, which has yet to be filed formally, to the delegation for its support. Rep. Ralph Massullo voted for the concept.

Sen. Wilton Simpson did not attend the delegation meeting, though he had staff members in attendance. Asked for his position on the measure, a spokeswoman said Simpson, who’s also Senate president, “does not plan to weigh in at this time.”

School Board members said they want to prevent the bill from making it through both chambers of the Legislature. They planned to send their resolution to the delegation, as well as to Gov. Ron DeSantis and House Speaker Chris Sprowls.

If the bill moves forward, it would place the question of superintendent selection method before voters in 2022. If approved, the superintendent would become an elected official in 2026.

About two-thirds of Florida’s school districts have elected superintendents. Florida is one of two states that allows for the voters to pick the superintendent.

In recent years, a growing number of districts, including Martin and Marion counties, have moved to appointed officials. The Constitution Revision Commission in 2018 discussed sponsoring an amendment that would do away with the elected position, but did not advance that proposal.