Brooksville pastor challenges longtime principal trying for reelection to Hernando's District 5 School Board seat

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times    Hernando County School District
DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times Hernando County School District
Published Aug. 17, 2018

Hernando County School Board District 5 incumbent Susan Duval seconded the motion to fire superintendent Lori Romano on June 12. And that's why Joe Santerelli said he filed to run against her about a week later.

A week after that, the local pastor spoke at a School Board meeting, sporting a button announcing his candidacy. He told officials the way they fired Romano was "shameful," then quoted scripture on forgiveness.

"I want to play a very positive role in helping our school system go through a traumatic time," Santerelli said this week. He leads Hillside Baptist Church in Brooksville. "I am very familiar with the healing process, because I have walked hundreds of people through it."

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Duval, a past principal with more than 40 years in the district, said she also hopes to move the community forward through the turmoil left in Romano's wake. Still, she defends her vote.

"(Santerelli) said he didn't like (Romano) being blind-sided," she said, "but if he would have been watching the meetings over the last several months — and really over the last several years — he would have seen that there have been several discussions about Dr. Romano's performance."

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Duval, 71, said she hopes to look locally for a new superintendent before posting the job listing nationally. "Deep loyalty" to Hernando is a must, she added.

"I don't want someone looking to do something else somewhere else," she said. "I don't want someone looking to retire or launch out of here ... I want someone who's really, really vested in this community."

Santerelli said he wants a "team player" who is ready to serve.

"We want to see that you are here to serve with us," he said. "Not over us, but with us."

Santerelli's campaign contributions total about $4,800, with about $2,000 from himself, according to campaign finance records. His largest donations otherwise came from three Brooksville companies: TG United, a Brooksville pharmaceutical manufacturer, Rivera's Flooring, and American Gun and Pawn, which is owned by County Commission Chairman Steve Champion.

Santerelli was accompanied by Champion and commissioner Wayne Dukes when he filed to run for office, but said he is not endorsed by either, and neither asked him to run. Santerelli is endorsed by the Hernando Republican Party, of which Champion and Dukes are members.

"I chose to run on my own," he said, adding that he asked for Champion's guidance. "People have asked me to run for other offices before, but I never had a desire to do so. I felt compelled this year."

If elected, Santerelli, 53, said he hopes to improve school security by starting a veterans program that posts military retirees in schools and on buses. He also has ideas for a community "think tank," to get input from parents and residents on what's happening in schools.

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Duval is endorsed by the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association, which said in a statement that she "always does her homework." She is known for coming to School Board meetings carrying loads of binders holding backup materials for agenda items. Usually, she asks more questions than any other official on the dais.

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She doesn't have any radical goals for the next term, but said promises to continue carefully contemplating every item that comes to the School Board.

"I'm usually a month ahead on School Board agenda materials because I can't get behind — there's too much," she said. "I have an obligation and a responsibility to do the very best job that I can. And that means knowing what's on the agenda, reading about it and trying to formulate good questions."

Duval raised about $1,570 in campaign donations, most of which she funded herself, campaign finance records show. The rest came from small donations from local individuals, including some that listed themselves as a district employee, like Spring Hill Elementary principal Michael Maine, Springstead High assistant principal Dana Pearce and bus driver Kathy Kay.

School Board races are nonpartisan. Members set policy and approve budgets for the school district. They must live in the community where their seat is based, but are elected countywide. They serve four-year terms and are paid $36,276 per year.

Contact Megan Reeves at Follow @mareevs.

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