Hernando School Board fires Superintendent Lori Romano after member says she 'lost the public trust'

Hernando County District Schools Superintendent Lori Romano pleads her case to the audience about the firing of the 47 teachers at Moton Elementary during a school board meeting. Romano was terminated by the Hernando County School Board on Tuesday evening. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
Hernando County District Schools Superintendent Lori Romano pleads her case to the audience about the firing of the 47 teachers at Moton Elementary during a school board meeting. Romano was terminated by the Hernando County School Board on Tuesday evening. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
Published June 13, 2018

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County schools Superintendent Lori Romano will step down at the end of this month following a 3-2 vote by the School Board to terminate its contract with her amid increasing concerns about her ability to lead.

Romano has suffered harsh public criticism from community members and in surveys by school district employees for more than a year. Supporters have praised her firm vision for securing an A grade for the district, but detractors have noted a lack of transparency and called her administration style "fear-based." Some began calling for her resignation in 2017.

Board member Beth Narverud initiated the superintendent's firing at a Tuesday workshop, telling the board Romano had "lost the public trust" before calling for a vote of no-confidence. Officials finalized the decision at their evening meeting.

When a red-faced, expressionless Romano asked board members for their reasoning, School Board attorney Dennis Alfonso said an explanation will be provided in an official termination letter. He will present it to the board for approval at its June 26 meeting. Romano's last day is set for June 30.

"So you're terminating me publicly, and you're not even telling me what the cause is?" Romano asked. Alfonso said she will have 10 days to contest the ruling upon receipt of the letter.

She declined a request for an interview by the Tampa Bay Times.

In recent weeks, Romano has taken backlash for her decision to fire 47 teachers at long-struggling Moton Elementary School without notifying the board beforehand. The move caused a rift with the district's teachers union, violated its contract and resulted in a settlement that got three fired teachers their jobs back.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Hernando superintendent "pink slipped" by public following firing of 47 teachers at Moton Elementary

On Monday, board members received a letter from an attorney, apparently representing Romano, threatening legal action against Narverud and board member Susan Duval. The letter said both had violated the superintendent's contract by not meeting with her before her evaluations.

RELATED COVERAGE: Lawyer threatens legal action against Hernando School Board members, says they violated contract with superintendent

Board member Linda Prescott, who acknowledged that hers was the "deciding vote," said both incidents played into her decision to get rid of Romano.

"Up until Moton, I was really hopeful that things were, in my opinion, turning around," she said. "I think when Moton happened, and how it happened ... I just could not, as a long-term teacher, accept that decision."

Prescott said the district has improved, by some measures, under Romano's leadership. But the letter from her attorney regarding Narverud and Duval, who have long had issues with the superintendent, was not "a way to solve a problem," she said.

Narverud's concerns included "a multitude of misinformation, half-truths and urgent, last-minute decisions thrust upon" the board by the superintendent. She, too, referenced Moton.

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"How do we as a board continue to do this when there is so much uncertainty? We don't," she said at the workshop. "How do we continue to act upon this superintendent's recommendations when we are no longer sure we have received all the pertinent information and facts? We cannot."

Duval, who last month spoke at a meeting about her concerns regarding Moton, stood by Narverud. Duval spoke vaguely, saying she was "looking for solutions" to support students and staff better.

"Personally, I think it's something that I need to do," she said, referencing her support for firing Romano.

Board member Gus Guadagnino, who has a strong record of supporting Romano and last year was the only official to give her a perfect score on her School Board evaluation, told fellow officials they were making "the biggest mistake."

All four "indicators of performance" listed in Romano's contract — student attendance, graduation rate, industry certifications and dropout rate — have improved since she took the post in 2013, he said.

RELATED COVERAGE: Hernando school district releases evaluation documents on Superintendent Lori Romano

"I don't see any justification for getting somebody who has accomplished the things she has done and saying we want to get rid of (her)," he said. "Who is going to come to the county after hearing about all of her accomplishments, and still you throw her out?"

School Board Chairman Mark Johnson, who voted to keep Romano, said she has done a "good job" in elevating the district. He asked the audience — split between supporters and critics of Romano — to be sensitive. He said he would start the process of finding a temporary fill-in while the board begins searching for a permanent replacement.

"This is not a happy occasion for this School Board," Johnson said. "This is not a happy occasion for this school district."

Contact Megan Reeves at Follow @mareevs.