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Incumbent chairman and newcomer battle for Hernando's District 1 School Board seat

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

Mark Johnson was elected to the Hernando County School Board in 2014. He said his successful track record, combined with local business savvy, make him the clear choice over Catherine "Kay" Hatch for the District 1 seat.

"It's not just an opportunity or an adventure for me," he said in an interview last week. "This is serious stuff."

A retired nurse and pastor, Hatch said she is running for School Board to be an advocate for children and families from diverse backgrounds. She edges out Johnson with "people and relationship-building skills," she said.

Hatch, 69, moved to Hernando from Ohio about three years ago after buying a house in Spring Hill in 2012. She recently began attending School Board meetings to get caught up on local issues, she said, including the widespread discord surrounding superintendent Lori Romano's termination.

"I would like to be a part of the group that rebuilds trust in the district after all the upset that caused," she said this week. If elected, she would support having the community play a role in the search for Romano's replacement.

"We need to listen to what people are saying, communicate the message that people are heard ... and use those comments to develop the criteria to search for a new superintendent," she said.

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

Johnson, 68, voted to keep Romano in place, but moved past his steady support for the superintendent once her termination was solidified. Now he's supporting John Stratton, a longtime administrator recently named interim superintendent, as a candidate for the permanent job at the helm.

"He has other skills sets that Dr. Romano was lacking," Johnson said. "He is more open, more easy to talk to. He has a different philosophy with communication ... he has the trust of the students and staff."

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Romano out. Stratton in. Hernando school officials hire replacement superintendent

Hatch said the 25 years she spent teaching high school graduates working toward pediatric nursing diplomas, combined with more than 20 years as a reading tutor for elementary students, gave her insight into what it means to be an educator, which would help her as a school official.

Listening to teachers' needs, as well as securing better pay and benefits for them, will be among her top priorities, if elected, she said. She is endorsed by Hernando Classroom Teachers Association, the union for teachers, which gave her a $250 donation, according to campaign finance records.

Hatch raised a total of $1,375, about half of which she funded herself. Otherwise, her donations came from local individuals and Brooksville-based Judkins Construction.

GRADEBOOK PODCAST: Why the Hernando School Board fired its superintendent

Johnson, owner of a private investigations firm, said being on the School Board is about more than teaching. There's a business side to it, too, he said. He is endorsed by the Hernando Republican Party.

"It's about having the contacts in the community to get things done, knowing how to get things through the Legislature, understanding budgets and financing," he said, adding that he is working toward a master's degree in public administration. "As much as I believe that teachers are underpaid, there has to be a balance."

Johnson said his connections in the business community will aid his effort to expand the district's vocational offerings for students who are not college-bound. He hopes to train students for job openings that Hernando businesses need help filling, through free community education classes taught by local trade professionals.

"My skill set is taking problems apart and marrying resources to them," he said. "I want to bring the community into the school system so that it is no longer an ivory tower ... making it more friendly to do business with the school district."

Johnson has raised more than $17,000 for his campaign, according to campaign finance records.

His donations include about $6,800 from himself, $50 each from School Board member Linda Prescott, outgoing member Beth Narverud, who is running as a Republican for a seat on the County Commission, and Joel Fritton, a Republican candidate for Clerk of the Circuit Court. Lobbying group Citizens for Economic Freedom donated $250.

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 mreeves@tampabay.com. Follow @mareevs.

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