New School Board Attorney Applicants
During the October 10th workshop, the Hernando County School Board interviewed three applicants to serve as general counsel to the board. The interviews came following an earlier announcement by General Counsel Nancy McClain Alfonso that she is leaving to pursue other endeavors. Alfonso and her late husband Dennis have served the Hernando County School District as general counsel since 2008, and the school board has held their performance in high regard.
Law firms seeking the position were Gray Robinson, P.A. of Gainesville; Schumaker, Loop, and Kendrick, LLP of Sarasota; and Weiss Serota Helfman Cole + Bierman, P.L. of Gainesville. During the interviews, which were open to the public, members of the school board took turns asking representatives from each firm twelve standardized questions. The questions covered all aspects of the firm’s experience and resources as they might relate to the board’s future needs. The areas covered during the process included general experience, labor law, drafting of rules and regulations, contract law, negotiations, bargaining units, personnel matters and procurement, among others.
After a short deliberation, the Board agreed to retain the law firm of Weiss Serota to fill the vacancy. The board chair and (current) General Counsel Nancy Alfonso were directed to contact the firm and move forward with retention negotiations.
During the regular school board meeting following the workshop, Superintendent John Stratton and the other board members recognized Alfonso’s service to the district. Stratton stated that the board members had developed a close relationship with the Alphonsos over the years and regarded them as true friends.
Guidance Counselor Supervisor
One of the agenda items for the evening’s regular meeting didn’t proceed quite as smoothly. During the consent agenda portion of the meeting, members Mark Johnson and Shannon Rodriguez pulled the item approving the job description for a new position, guidance counselor supervisor.
The new $70,000-per-year position was intended to create a single point of contact for the district’s seven guidance counselors. The position was proposed following complaints from the counselors that they were largely left to meet and “figure things out for themselves” regarding changes in law or policy in various facets of their jobs. Currently, the counselors have to seek out at least four different department directors to get information to fulfill various aspects of their jobs, ranging from student scheduling to legal issues and policy changes. The district had someone in the supervisory position until 2008. The position, which is paid for with millage funds, was cut that year due to an economic downturn and never reinstated. Reinstatement of the position would remain subject to available millage funds. Superintendent Stratton said he felt enough money for the position was currently available and believes funding will be no problem for at least two years. He stated that anyone hired for the position would be made aware that continued funding of the position is contingent on budget availability.
Johnson said that his concern about the job description was that it did not emphasize making sure guidance counselors pushed to get local scholarship money awarded. He told the board he wanted that listed as a specific job duty, citing complaints from local businesses. According to Johnson, the complaints centered around the fact that local scholarship monies offered were not being awarded or that there were only “three or four” students who applied for each scholarship. The scholarships in question were generally smaller scholarships that may, for example, help a lower-income student attend Pasco-Hernando State College. Johnson lamented that applying for these scholarships did not require an exceptionally high grade point average. He said most of them only required that the applicant be a U.S. citizen, live in Hernando County, write a statement of need, and perhaps a brief 200-word essay. Johnson felt that more students would take advantage of the scholarships if guidance counselors advertised them more heavily.
Some board members disagreed with John’s assertion, such as Linda Prescott, a retired teacher, who commented that getting students to apply for scholarships has always been frustrating for teachers, no matter how hard they pushed them.
Board member Shannon Rodriguez objected to the position because she did not believe it was the right time to fund it. She said, “I think it’s a beneficial position, and I like it. I just don’t think now is the time. Rodriguez pointed out that the district had many employees who were “already part of the family” and underpaid. Rodriguez said she wanted to see current employees taken care of first before funding new positions.
Board Superintendent John Stratton pointed out that there was a high probability that an existing employee would get this position, emphasizing that he strongly felt current funding would support it. He and Board Member Susan Duvall also spoke of the immediate need for the position, discussing the current lack of supervision for guidance counselors, their heavy workload and echoing their frustrations at not having a single point of contact within the district. The district currently has seven guidance counselor positions, with one in each of the high schools. There are twenty-one schools in the district.
Following the discussion, the school board voted 3-2 to approve the new position, with Johnson and Rodriguez dissenting.