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Pinder Contract Approved

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Hernando County Schools officially have their new superintendent after the school board approved a 1-year contract with current assistant superintendent of business and support services Ray Pinder at a June 25 meeting.

But the vote was preceded by a heated debate, a continuation of a bitter two-month battle largely pitting Shannon Rodriguez and Mark Johnson against their fellow board members. Mark Johnson was not present due to illness.

Pinder will be considered the interim superintendent, leaving the decision to make a long-term hire until after the November election.

Rodriguez questioned the base pay for Pinder, particularly a 21 percent salary increase and a $650 transportation allowance, considering that in her words the first-time superintendent is “basically on the job training.”

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“I just feel that we’re not being fiscally responsible as a board,” Rodriguez said. “We should not bring somebody in that is brand new, that is learning at 21 percent increase along with that $650 a month like I said. We don’t have any competition, so why don’t we get a more competitive salary right now?

“And at this moment, he’s an interim. So he’s stepping in the place as an interim, not a full superintendent. With that being said, I just don’t think it’s a good move financially to increase somebody to the degree of $31,000 plus $650 a month. I don’t have a problem coming back to the drawing table after he learns the job and after he’s gotten acquainted and things are happening, by all means, we should reassess and reevaluate.”

Those comments drew a harsh response from board member Gus Guadagnino, who initially nominated Pinder at an April 23 board meeting.

“I totally disagree with you,” Guadagnino said. “I believe by your statements you don’t really know what his job has been or what he has been performing, and to ridicule him like that in front of people in public is a disgrace. The man has been dedicated, the man is accomplished, and I don’t know where you’re getting your information from but if you check out other superintendents, interim or not, you’ll find out that you’ve got a deal going there.

“This is not Walmart. We need the best person to educate our system and take care of the people that work in the system. I don’t know what you feel is a fair number, but don’t nickel and dime him.”

“This is the problem with the board, the attacks,” Rodriguez fired back. “So if I have an opinion and it doesn’t line up with Gus Guadagnino’s opinion, then there’s a problem and you’re going to belittle me? That is not humane. That is not how we should act to one another. I didn’t just say anything. I wasn’t nasty. I wasn’t insulting him. I wasn’t putting him down by no means. Not one time have I put that man down. I stated the facts; I stated the obvious.”

That was one of several statements Rodriguez made throughout the discussion that drew applause from those attending the meeting. After that reaction to those particular comments, Guadagnino retorted, “You got what you wanted, goddess.”

“No, I didn’t get what I wanted yet,” Rodriguez said. “That’s coming in November.”

That was a not-so-subtle reference to Guadagnino’s seat being up for election this year. So will the seat of board chairperson Linda Prescott, although she has already stated she will not be seeking re-election.

Rodriguez has opposed the choice of Pinder since the April 23 meeting, in which Pinder was picked by a 3-2 vote as the replacement for retiring Superintendent John Stratton. She had nominated Brent Gaustad, a former principal at Parrott Middle School and Moton Elementary.

The April 23 decision was revoked two weeks later due to a lack of opportunity for public comment. Pinder and Gaustad were subsequently given the chance to speak and answer questions in front of the board at a workshop on June 11.

However, Gaustad told the board on June 11 that he was pulling himself from consideration, believing the original vote had already “put the cart ahead of the horses.” Later that night, in a board meeting, the vote was again 3-2 in favor of Pinder, with Rodriguez and Johnson continuing to dissent. Rodriguez has repeatedly chastised the board for what she believes was a rash decision that lacked a more extensive search.

Prescott, who was directly involved in negotiations with Pinder, defended the contract.
“We looked at other interim superintendents. We looked at what happened with Mr. Stratton,” Prescott said. “I think Mr. Pinder did send out an explanation regarding the percentage and the percentage of increase is actually a little bit below what Mr. Stratton had. He was 21 percent. That percentage was based upon what we have done in the past.

“Mr. Stratton had 19 years of experience in Hernando County, now close to 30. Mr. Pinder has been in Hernando County for 31 years. We felt giving Mr. Pinder that percentage of 21 percent, that was a fair amount.”

The transportation stipend represented a significant increase from $300 given to Stratton.

“Regarding the $650, I asked (general counsel) Mr. (David) Delaney to check out what other superintendents in the area were receiving for their car allowance,” Prescott said. “Because we have the tax initiatives coming up, Mr. Pinder, should the contract be approved, will be going out making presentations to different community groups and organizations.”

Prescott added that she did not believe Pinder would be on the job training based on his experience as an assistant superintendent, human resources director, principal and teacher. She asked what Rodriguez believed his salary increase should be, to which Rodriguez responded 10 percent with the possibly of more based on performance.

“I think that’s too low for the responsibility of a superintendent,” Prescott said.

Delaney delivered a message from Johnson, who also questioned Pinder’s base salary as well as his severance pay. The objections of Rodriguez and Johnson did not sway Prescott, Guadagnino and Susan Duval, who all voted to approve the contract.

“Teachers have to be elevated. Teachers don’t get brought in at the top dollar. They have to work for it, and they have to show performance and they have to show all of the evaluations, and everything has to be in line,” Rodriguez said. “And then they continue accordingly to their skill level, to their performance, to all the above to get increases. So I’m not sure why we don’t do the same.”

Assistant Superintendent of Business and Support Services Ray Pinder
Assistant Superintendent of Business and Support Services Ray Pinder

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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