Lawmaker proposes that voters should elect Hernando County superintendent

A state lawmaker wants to change how the superintendent of schools in Hernando County is chosen. Rather than being appointed by the school board, as they are now, Rep. Blaise Ingoglia wants that decision to be in voters' hands.

"The school board and the superintendent position need to be held more accountable for some of the decisions that they make," Ingoglia said.

He's proposing a bill that would let voters elect their superintendent, a change, he admits, would make it a partisan position.

Hernando County's Legislative Delegation supports it.

"It works well in Pasco County, it works well in Citrus County, there's no reason why it should not work well in Hernando County," Ingoglia said.

One of the main reasons Ingoglia says he is proposing the change was the decision by Superintendent John Stratton to allow classroom discussions about the Black Lives Matter movement.

"That is a hot-button issue," Ingoglia said. "It's very controversial. I don't believe it belongs in Hernando County schools. Now, we're not talking about civil rights. I think everyone agrees that you should teach civil rights but what they're teaching in the classroom is a Marxist foundation of the Black Lives Matter orthodoxy."

School Board Chair Linda Prescott responded, saying, "I think that current events, as part of the course curriculum and part of the frameworks that are decided on by the Department of Education, should be discussed," Prescott said. "It's something that children see in the news and the newspaper every day."

Florida and Alabama are the only two states that allow superintendents to be elected, rather than appointed. In 98% of the country, including Hillsborough, Manatee, Pinellas, Polk and Sarasota counties, the position is school board-appointed.

It's been that way in Hernando County since 1992.

Prescott praised Stratton, saying, "Our superintendent has taken us through COVID, is taking us through many challenges, and I think that support from the community is so important, which has been very evident from our passing of tax increases and reelection school board members."

Tuesday, the school board filed a resolution opposing the bill. The document cited a nearly 92% graduation rate in 2020, which ranked Hernando 14th out of Florida's 67 districts. They say that an appointed superintendent's background is deeply vetted, that they're accountable to the board and more likely to foster a good working relationship, whereas, one who's elected could not be removed until the next election if they're found to be failing in their duties.

"School board members obviously are elected in a nonpartisan position and politics, in my opinion, has no place in education," Prescott said.

The Hernando Classroom Teachers Association also opposes the idea. 

Though the proposed bill, itself, has not yet been filed, if passed, it would appear as a referendum on Hernando County's 2022 general election ballot.

The first election for a superintendent wouldn't happen until 2026.