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A Times Editorial

Board must control its superintendent

© St. Petersburg Times
published July 14, 2002

Sometimes it's hard to figure out if David Hickey is stubborn or stymied.

Maybe it's a combination of the two. But either way, the superintendent's emerging pattern of opposing the Citrus County School Board's wishes -- usually for elusive reasons -- is becoming a liability for the district. It's time for the School Board members to exercise their collective authority and remind Hickey that they establish policy and that his job is to implement those decisions.

The latest example came Tuesday when board member Carol Snyder, with support from a majority of the board, raised concerns about the safety of football players who will begin practice in August. Hot weather and humidity can combine to dehydrate even the most fit athletes. Heat stroke has killed some high school, college and even professional athletes, and each time it happens the coaches and the athletic institutions they represent are rightfully scrutinized to ensure reasonable precautions were taken to protect the athletes.

If the special wet-bulb thermometers Snyder proposed were in use, coaches would be required to periodically monitor the readings about temperature and humidity. If conditions exceeded recommended limits, practice time would be restricted and mandatory water breaks would be observed.

Snyder urged Hickey to buy one of the specialized thermometers for each high school and middle school, for a total expenditure of about $700. She also moved that school administrators be instructed to give the board copies of the information they use to train coaches about recognizing and preventing heat-related illnesses.

But Hickey recoiled at the idea, claiming "The insurance people have a concern" about liability. As he frequently is, Hickey was vague in his opposition and offered no other specifics about what that "concern" might be. He also used the absence of board attorney Richard "Spike" Fitzpatrick as an excuse to delay action.

What liability concern could there be? How could an insurance carrier possibly view the purchase and proper use of the devices as anything other than favorable?

Synder summed up the absurdity of Hickey's reluctance when she speculated that liability could only be a problem if the coaches didn't follow the board's instructions to use the thermometers, and a student-athlete succumbed to the heat.

The real root of Hickey's concern could be an aversion to interfering with the district's coaches. Hickey, who was a coach at Crystal River High School before he became a politician, earlier this year resisted direction from the board to adopt and implement a code of conduct for coaches. The plea came from some parents who complained that coaches worked students so hard they became ill, and amid rumors that some coaches set bad examples by using profanity and humiliation to motivate players. He has not brought back a proposal for the board to consider.

Board member Sandra "Sam" Himmel lamented Hickey's indifference on the proposal to buy the thermometers. "It's sad that this directive had to come from the School Board," she said Tuesday.

She's right. But it also is sad that the board members continue to let Hickey be an obstructionist to their governance. He cannot pick and choose which of their instructions he will comply with or delay. And every time the board hands him an assignment and fails to give him a deadline for implementation, it invites his retaliatory foot-dragging.

Buying the thermometers should have been a no-brainer. It's not only a good idea, it's a timely one because football practice is just around the corner. The board should have overridden Hickey's stalling tactic and authorized the purchase. Let the superintendent worry about working out details with the coaches and the insurance company later. The immediate need is to take an extra step to safeguard the youngsters' health.

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