A proposal to have Hernando County voters reconsider how their school superintendent is selected has failed to make it through the legislative session.
It failed to gain the support of one influential lawmaker.
Senate President Wilton Simpson, one of three members of the Hernando County delegation, on Thursday filed an objection to the local bill that had been advocated by Rep. Blaise Ingoglia and passed the full House by a wide margin. The bill would have required a referendum to decide whether to return the school district’s superintendent job to an elected post.
The district had an elected superintendent until 1992. Hernando is one of 27 Florida counties, including Hillsborough and Pinellas, to have an appointed superintendent.
Florida is one of two states to allow for elected superintendents, along with Alabama.
“President Simpson supports the local bill process when there is consensus about a particular course of action at the local level,” spokeswoman Katie Betta said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times. “He does not believe there is a local consensus on this issue.”
School Board members and their representatives lobbied heavily against the bill right up to the time Simpson issued his objection.
Senate rules allow any senator from the district in question to remove a measure from the Local Bill Calendar, effectively killing it. That calendar was up for consideration Thursday, and Hernando district officials had been watching anxiously to see what Simpson would do.
Simpson did not attend the delegation meeting where the bill was approved, and he declined to talk about the issue throughout the two-month session when asked whether he supported it.
The bill (HB 1635) appeared on the local bill calendar as late as 10 a.m. Thursday morning. About that time, Simpson released a copy of his one-sentence letter to Rules chairwoman Kathleen Passidomo.
School district officials cheered Simpson’s decision. Board chairwoman Linda Prescott said she “would definitely agree” with the senator’s assessment that the issue lacked local consensus.
Prescott suggested that community support was strong for the appointed superintendent, and the elected school board that picked him. She pointed to strong support for the district’s tax increase referendum in November, along with the reelections of incumbent board members.
“Very seldom do we have people coming to the School Board complaining about anything, except the masks,” she said. “I think this would have failed had it been put on the ballot. I’m glad Sen. Simpson weighed the evidence and made the right decision.”
Ingoglia could not be reached for comment about the senator’s move.
During presentations on the bill, he made clear his disdain for the school district’s current leadership and its structure, suggesting the lack of leadership and accountability to parents over time had been “astounding.” He called the appointed superintendent model an “abject failure.”
He spoke of concerns that a teacher used a newspaper letter to the editor to discuss Black Lives Matter during a U.S. government class, saying the teacher attempted to indoctrinate students and should have been sanctioned. The district investigated and superintendent John Stratton took no action against the teacher.
Ingoglia also mentioned a time when a school employee was arrested on charges of lewd and lascivious conduct against children, and parents whose children attend the school were not told of the nature of the employee’s alleged crime. District officials said they followed state laws regarding notification of families.
He said he had raised complaints to the district about his concerns over several years, but his views had gone ignored.
“Now I’m in a position to do something about it,” Ingoglia said, adding that many parents supported his effort.
He further said that trying to change the superintendent selection process was not his only aim: “I’m going to make it my goal to ensure that everyone on that board is no longer a member of the School Board. I will be working against them, because we need a change in Hernando County.”
Prescott said the issue appeared to be political. Ingoglia is a conservative Republican who once chaired the state party, while at least three of the board members are registered Democrats. Board seats are nonpartisan.