State commission considering change in way superintendents are picked

Published Nov. 2, 2017

Pasco County has the largest school system in the nation that is run by an elected superintendent. Voters have insisted it remain that way, most recently in 2006, when even some School Board members recommended a change.

Now, the Florida Constitution Revision Commission is considering a proposal that would change Pasco's model. One of the commissioners, who also sits on the Collier County School Board, has proposed amending the constitution to require that superintendents be appointed.

Currently, 44 of the state's 67 districts elect their superintendent.

"Our communities deserve school leaders that are focused on excellence and not politics," commissioner Erika Donalds said. "The nature of elected superintendents ensures the majority of applicants have no experience."

Not only that, she said, the elected model limits potential superintendents to county residents. Someone with vast experience could live five minutes outside the district and not be eligible without moving.

Donalds further observed that the elected superintendent has his or her own political base, separate from the board that is charged with setting policy for the district.

Of course, the opposite situation can occur. Power-hungry school board members easily can dominate an appointed superintendent with threats of dismissal, for instance.

"You could find pluses and minuses on both sides," Donalds said. "You have to balance the two."

Voters would have to approve this change, if it makes it out of the Revision Commission.

SCHOOL CHOICE: As the Pasco County School District seeks to provide more traditional school choices that meet student needs and interests, one of the criticisms has been that it is difficult to find good information about the programs.

School Board members recently complained that the district website did not have adequate details about any of the magnets, career academies or other offerings — if they could even locate the proper pages.

Board member Colleen Beaudoin said the website should have a dedicated location for explaining the options, with lots of links and descriptions. The district quickly responded.

"As promised, the school choice catalog is now online, and I think you'll agree that it looks terrific," communication director Linda Cobbe told the board in an email.

The new site comes in advance of the district's December magnet school and February open choice application periods. It does not include any information on plans to convert Ridgewood High School into a magnet technical school for 2018-19.

Find the online catalog here:

LEGAL SERVICES: Pasco School Board attorney Dennis Alfonso has requested a contract renewal for his firm, which will be considered at the board's Nov. 7 meeting.

In his proposal, Alfonso has asked for a $35-per-hour increase in the fee charged by his firm's shareholders and board-certified lawyers, to $200 an hour. The firm's associate lawyers would continue to receive the same $165-per-hour rate it now receives.

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Alfonso did not ask for a change in the firm's annual retainer of $66,396.64. The rest of his contract would remain essentially unchanged from past years.

TOP TEACHERS: The Florida Council for the Social Studies has recognized three Pasco County teachers for their work in the field. The county's social studies teachers of the year are Elizabeth Casarez (Marlowe Elementary), Heather Schuster (Gulf Middle) and Stacey Hannigan (Ridgewood High). The organization will name statewide winners at a later date.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at (813) 909-4614 or Follow @jeffsolochek.