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School Board Reopens Superintendent Search

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Last month, the Hernando County School Board seemed to have reached an easy resolution to the problem of who will replace retiring superintendent John Stratton at the end of June. Turns out, it was a little too easy.

At the May 14 meeting, the board was forced to revoke its decision to enter negotiations with assistant superintendent of business and support services Ray Pinder to become the interim superintendent and open up the search to public discussion.

The end result was that both Pinder and former Parrott Middle School and Moton Elementary principal Brent Gaustad will have the opportunity to speak and make a case for the position prior to a new vote by the board later this month.

“Did the steps we took make sense? You all voted on someone before citizen comments could be heard,” board member Shannon Rodriguez said in addressing the rest of the board on May 14. “This deal clearly was already made and you hearing from the public had no impact on the decision you were going to make. Proof being, you as a board wouldn’t have overlooked that the public was not given the opportunity to speak in the order it was supposed to happen, and you would have anticipated hearing from them and their remarks before you cast your vote.”

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At an April 23 workshop, the board came to a consensus that it would choose an interim superintendent for one year, delaying a decision for a permanent replacement until after the November election. They also, by a 3-2 vote decided that Pinder would be the choice if they could agree on a contract.

That item was then added to the agenda of the public meeting later that night after a motion by board member Mark Johnson and the vote again went 3-2 in favor of Pinder over Gaustad.

“Mr. Johnson’s motion was sort of a surprise, which I said at the meeting,” board chairperson Linda Prescott said on May 14. “I should have probably asked you to withdraw the motion because it wasn’t on the agenda and there wasn’t opportunity for public input, so I accept responsibility for doing that.”
It was Rodriguez who first brought up Gaustad’s name on April 23 and championed his selection that day in both the workshop and the meeting. In each case, Johnson was the only board member to vote along with her.

At the May 14 meeting, Rodriguez again took up the cause for Gaustad, criticizing the board for not asking him to come up and speak on April 23 when he was in attendance.

Both Pinder and assistant superintendent of teaching and learning Gina Michalicka were asked to come forward at the April 23 workshop and declare whether they were interested in entering negotiations for the interim superintendent position. Michalicka declined, while Pinder expressed his willingness but did not add any further comment.

“The person that I nominated did not even get thought of. They didn’t get asked to come up,” Rodriguez said. “Nobody wanted to know what their qualifications were, what their vision was for this district, who they are, how long have they been here, what exactly is their stance on what they could do to make changes. Nobody asked that.

“For me and I think everybody watching and constituents, it felt as it appeared that you guys just picked the next person in line and assumed, let’s just throw him in the role, that’s perfect, it works and it’s easy.”

Board member Gus Guadagnino, who originally nominated Pinder, said he had no plans to change his vote. Prescott and Susan Duval, who had voted for Pinder, said they would like to hear both men speak. That will take place at a May 28 workshop and the subsequent vote for the board as well as additional public comment will happen at the meeting later that day.

“I think it’s important that we bring the candidate forward who you recommended so the public will have an understanding perhaps of what the vote will be, which I don’t know,” Prescott said to Rodriguez. “Because right now, I have the feeling you felt like he should have had the opportunity and I agree.”

Chris Bernhardt
Chris Bernhardt
A resident of Spring Hill since 1986, Chris graduated from Springstead High in 1999 before moving on to earn a bachelor’s degree in journalism at the University of Central Florida. In summer of 2003 he joined the staff at Hernando Today, working at the paper for 11 years as a sports reporter, the last three as sports coordinator in charge of the paper’s sports coverage. After an initial 3-year stint with Hernando Sun, he spent four years as a staff sports reporter at the Citrus County Chronicle. Follow on X @cpbernhardtjr.
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