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Hernando School Board member says he was 'embarrassed' by discord

BROOKSVILLE — Two weeks after a heated Hernando School Board workshop, board member Gus Guadagnino used a meeting Tuesday, Sept. 5, to address his fellow elected leaders about the recent public discord among them, spurred by a districtwide evaluation of superintendent Lori Romano.

"I was kind of embarrassed at our last meeting at what took place . . . the interrupting, the accusations, the breakdown of teamwork," Guadagnino said. "All of us are looked up to in our own worlds, but (not) when we come together as a team."

Guadagnino said that after meetings on Aug. 22, during which the board got a second look at the results of the evaluation survey, people came to him to "question why certain people hate certain people," proving to him that the public's perception of the board could be improved.

Guadagnino wouldn't elaborate on specific issues among board members, saying he is "not one to put dirty laundry out." But he did say the problems became apparent during last month's meetings, at one of which University of South Florida professor George MacDonald, who facilitated the survey, made a presentation.

During the meeting, Romano interrupted the professor multiple times, arguing against his survey method and the results themselves. While Guadagnino and board member Mark Johnson both agreed with her wariness of the survey — saying four "indicators of performance" in Romano's four-year contract should serve as the main standards of evaluation — board members Beth Narverud and Susan Duval said they would be open to the results.

After the meeting, Romano told the Tampa Bay Times that Narverud and Duval "advocated for this survey with negative intent and not for the benefit of moving the district forward," a claim the women denied.

"Us, as a board, we need to be a united front," Guadagnino said Tuesday. "Right now we look like we are fragmented."

Johnson spoke up and called the board "a bunch of siblings" before later telling the Times that the last meeting was "just a flare-up" and discord is not the norm.

"It's just like families. . . . All families don't get along all the time, every day," he said, jokingly blaming the drama on "beginning-of-the-school-year jitters" or a phase of the moon. "I think it was healthy and maybe cleared the air on some issues."

Duval, who called into the Aug. 22 meeting via telephone and found herself in a heated exchange with Romano, agreed and said that differences of opinion on the board are healthy.

"If we were all in lockstep all the time, I would be worried," she told the Times. "I can't see five people agreeing on the same things all the time. If we did, what's the point in a school board?"

Duval said she finds value in the differences among board members because they create "dynamic conversations."

Narverud agreed and said decisions by the board should always be a "collective give-and-take."

Like Duval, she said differences are a good thing.

"It would be nice to all be sitting around together holding hands singing Kumbaya, but that's just not realistic," she said.