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Board to discuss principal in private

The School Board's executive session could play a crucial role in determining whether Michael Ransaw is reinstated as principal of Powell Middle.

By ABHI RAGHUNATHAN
Published May 3, 2005


BROOKSVILLE - School Board members will get their wish next week: a chance to discuss suspended Powell Middle School principal Michael Ransaw's case behind closed doors.

The board will meet in executive session in superintendent Wendy Tellone's conference room at 6 p.m. May 12. Board members insisted on the session after presiding over one tedious day of testimony last week.

Board members and attorneys assisting them will be permitted to attend the closed session, including W. Reynolds Allen, hired as a legal adviser in the Ransaw hearing. Tellone and School Board attorney Karen Gaffney, who is prosecuting Ransaw for the district, can also attend.

Local residents, Ransaw, and his attorney, Willie Jones, will not be allowed in the hearing, though a transcript prepared by a court reporter will eventually be released.

The discussion by board members at the meeting could play a crucial role in determining whether Ransaw will be reinstated as principal at Powell. Because the lawsuit filed by Jones is so sweeping, including nearly every aspect of the district's case against Ransaw, board members will be able to talk privately about many messy details of a situation that has dragged along in public for months.

The lawsuit filed by Jones on April 8 seeks damages from the School Board and Tellone for treating Ransaw unfairly. It also asks for Ransaw's case to be heard before the state Division of Administrative Hearings rather than before School Board members.

Since January, Tellone has been trying to fire Ransaw, saying he misled Hernando officials to get hired, failed to disclose what he knew about a state investigation and deleted documents and files, including public records, after he learned of the district's plans to examine his conduct.

Jones did not respond to a request for comment Monday afternoon. He has proclaimed his client's innocence before the board and declared that Ransaw was suspended from his job without cause.

Gaffney said she would leave the proceedings if board members discuss Ransaw's hearing or whether they should continue to preside over the matter. Tellone, who is a party in the lawsuit, will stay.

After hearing lengthy testimony filled with objections and minor arguments last Tuesday, board members decided on Wednesday to postpone Ransaw's hearing indefinitely. They said the hearing last week was moving far slower than they expected.

Board Vice Chairman Jim Malcolm said that Gaffney's departure during the discussion of the hearing would "take care of any perception of impropriety." Both Gaffney and Tellone have favored the School Board handling Ransaw's hearing, as opposed to the state.

On Nov. 19, Tellone suspended Ransaw after learning of a state investigation that found he pawned a district laptop while working as an assistant principal in Broward County. The state investigation largely validated an earlier inquiry by Broward County schools.

Hernando officials say Ransaw managed to get a job locally because he and his references never mentioned the laptop incident.

--Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at araghunathan@sptimes.com or 352 848-1431.