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DeSantis signs measure allowing Hernando County voters to choose schools chief

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A measure allowing Hernando County voters to choose to switch to an elected superintendent of schools has been signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis. The new law was signed amidst a tumultuous time for Hernando County School Superintendent John Stratton, who has faced the threat of a no-confidence vote during recent school board meetings.

Just before the highly contentious May 30 school board meeting, State Sen. Blaise Ingoglia (R-Spring Hill and State Representatives Jeff Holcomb (R-Spring Hill) and John Temple (R-Wildwood) issued a joint statement calling for Stratton’s resignation on grounds that he had lost the confidence of the Hernando County School District community.

“Whether it is pornographic material in our schools, not notifying parents when their children may have been around an alleged pedophile, or allowing a teacher back in the classroom after threatening to kill students, it is clear to us that change is needed, and it is needed now,” the statement read. Introduced by Rep. Jeff Holcomb (R-Spring Hill), CS/HB 773 repeals the 1992 decision by Hernando County voters for members of the school board to choose a superintendent from a roster submitted by candidates for the post.

Under the new measure, a referendum giving voters the opportunity to choose between an elected and appointed superintendent will appear on the 2024 primary ballot. If the voters choose to elect a superintendent, then the Hernando County Superintendent of Schools shall be elected to serve a four-year term in a partisan election beginning with the general election in 2028. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the measure on June 9. Stratton, School Board Chair Gus Guadagnino, Vice Chair Susan Duval, and members Mark Johnson and Shannon Rodriguez were not available to comment on the measure.

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It was opposed by School Board member Linda Prescott on the grounds that electing a superintendent will politicize the position.
“The position of Superintendent is an executive position, not a political position,” she wrote in an opinion column that appeared in the Hernando Sun in 2021 when a similar bill was introduced by then State Representative Ingoglia. The 2021 measure failed to reach the Senate floor. “The School Board is elected by its citizens in non-partisan races. One of the main responsibilities of the School Board is to hire and evaluate the Superintendent.”

Prescott also argued that an appointed Superintendent may be fired by the Board if they have grounds to do so. “If the superintendent is elected, citizens have to wait four years for the next election to replace the Superintendent,” Prescott wrote. “Appointed Superintendents are accountable to an elected School Board and are more likely to foster a good working relationship with the Board, keeping the focus on collaboration and solutions.”

Meanwhile, Kara Floyd, chairperson of the Moms for Liberty Hernando County, said that electing a Superintendent of Schools would be “a very good thing.” “In Hernando County and the State of Florida, parents have a right to know what goes on in their child’s classroom,” Floyd said in a written statement. “Superintendent John Stratton should’ve been removed a long time ago…” Stratton has served as Superintendent of Schools in Hernando County since 2018.

Hernando County is one of 29 Florida school districts that have superintendents appointed by school boards.

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