Former administrator gets no apology from Hernando school board

BROOKSVILLE — A Hernando County School Board hearing over former Schools Superintendent Ken Pritz was so contentious that even a vote to adjourn the hearing was split.
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Before the proceedings officially began, attorneys argued for nearly 20 minutes over the seating of Schools Superintendent Lori Romano on the school board dais; she stayed.

The school board on Monday eventually denied Pritz’s request for an apology and acknowledgment of wrongdoing in releasing a memo in his name — after Romano transferred him from his job as assistant superintendent to manager of the district warehouse — although he neither wrote nor sent it.

The December 2013 memo was written in first-person and expresses Pritz’ enthusiasm about the transfer. Pritz had been a finalist for the superintendency that went to Romano last year.

Still pending is a lawsuit Pritz filed in July against the School Board under Florida’s Whistle-Blower’s Act.

In the lawsuit, Pritz claims that he “suffered unlawful retaliation” after Romano sent the memo to district officials and the School Board on his letterhead.

Pritz’s attorney Bruce Snow sought an apology to his client and an acknowledgment of wrongdoing regarding the memo, but after more than an hour of sometimes-spirited debate, neither occurred. An investigation by Tampa attorney Tammie Rattray concluded this summer that the memo did not violate school board policy.

Snow argued on Monday that Rattray had determined that Romano was involved in drafting and sending the memo; Snow also acknowledged that Pritz had been instructed by Romano to send such a memo, but did not.

“It was written on the letterhead of Ken Pritz, said it was from Ken Pritz, and said that he had been reassigned and was excited about it,” Snow said. “It was written in first-person and it was designed to create an impression that it was being sent by Ken Pritz.

“I don’t know why, but it was.”

Snow said Pritz was “duty-bound” by district policy to send a letter of complaint over the memo, which he said was fraudulent.

Tom Gonzalez, an attorney who handles district labor and employment matters, said Monday that the memo was sent not from Pritz’s email but through a “clerical account.” He characterized the distribution of the memo as “procedural housekeeping responsibilities.”

“An alternative form of note that would have come from the superintendent would have been a lot more sinister and subject to indicating something was wrong other than a reassignment of duties,” Gonzalez said, arguing that Romano did nothing inappropriate.

Pritz worked for the district for 34 years in a variety of positions, including teacher, coach, manager, assistant principal, principal and executive director.

In his lawsuit, Pritz says his $101,724 salary was to be reduced by 40 percent with the demotion.

Pritz objected to the pay cut, and Romano did not offer him a contract this year. The lawsuit seeks a jury trial and damages in excess of $15,000. The case is expected to be heard in Circuit Court, although court records do not indicate when a trial might begin.

Gonzalez on Monday argued that there was no basis for the school board to apologize or acknowledge any wrongdoing.

Some board members seemed to agree with him, but not Dianne Bonfield.

“I don’t need a Philadelphia lawyer to let me know when something fraudulent has been done,” Bonfield said. “Is it right to pretend you’re somebody else? In (teaching) first grade, I could never do that or say it was correct. This is a lot of attorney talk.

“(The email) came from the superintendent and possibly two secretaries and sent as if it was from (Pritz). How could I or anybody ever say that was right? That’s totally indefensible, and it’s not being defended here. I can’t minimize it as housekeeping. What housekeeping? It’s either right or wrong.”

School Board Member John Sweeney decried the process as a “hide-and-seek game” and said it was a “fact” that Romano violated Pritz’ contract.

Sweeney’s comments drew an angry rebuke from School Board Member Matt Foreman.

“I find it unbelievable that you, as a board member, would sit up here and do that,” Foreman said.

Sweeney had filed a complaint against Romano over claims that his son’s privacy was violated when his academic records were leaked to media; he dropped the complaint in July. A school district investigation into who might have leaked the records was inconclusive.

“We have a duty to this school district,” Foreman said to Sweeney. “It’s unbelievable that you would take that route.”

Board Chair Gus Guadagnino abruptly asked for a motion to adjourn the hearing. It passed 3-2, but the dissenting voters were not identified.

Monday’s hearing was the final meeting for outgoing board members Bonfield, Sweeney and Cynthia Moore.

gfox@tampatrib.com

(352) 544-5283

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