Questions arise over second candidate's resume

Overstated enrollment numbers raise questions about a second superintendent hopeful.

Published March 9, 2007

BROOKSVILLE - On Thursday, false statements about employment history killed one candidate's chances to become the next superintendent of Hernando County schools.

And on Friday, overstated enrollment claims on a resume put a second candidate's application in jeopardy.

Lorenda Tiscornia, a Duval County high school principal, said on her resume that she'd been superintendent of a Hillsboro, Ohio, school district numbering 4,300 students for four years beginning in 1997. She then became an assistant superintendent for two years in Akron, which she said enrolled 38,400 students.

In reality, those Ohio districts enrolled 2,835 and 29,623 students, respectively, when she began work, and have since lost students, according to the districts and an analysis of state data by the St. Petersburg Times.

Tiscornia said her numbers might have included vocational students in Hillsboro, and "throngs" of students who left the Akron district for charter schools or other school-choice options in Ohio.

"They're not discrepancies in my view, because they were the numbers that were originally anticipated to come into the district," she said Friday. "It's not a lie, certainly. There's no lies on my resume."

But officials in the two Ohio districts said Tiscornia's explanations didn't hold water.

Michelle Branscome, an information systems director in Hillsboro, said Ohio schools count vocational students in their overall enrollment figure.

"I've worked here for seven years, and when I started we had about 30,000 students," said Akron spokeswoman Leah Knapp. "It's steadily declined since then."

Numbers matter to the fast-growing Hernando County Schools, which enroll more than 22,000 students. Among the qualifications required for applicants to succeed the retiring superintendent Wendy Tellone are five years' experience in a district numbering at least 10,000.

Tiscornia also over-counted the number of students at her current school, A. Phillip Randolph Academies of Technology. While the resume said the high school enrolls 1,000, the actual number this year has dropped from 792 in August to 747 last week.

She said the school was expecting 1,100 students last summer and, like many Florida districts, wound up with less.

But Tiscornia's resume overstatements - around 52 percent higher than reality in Hillsboro, and 30 percent higher in Akron - prompted some Hernando board members to ask whether she too should be removed from consideration.

"I'm not comfortable with her at this point," said board member John Sweeney. "That's a pretty big discrepancy.

"I don't think that's minor. For someone who's a superintendent, they should have a better handle on the numbers."

Chairman Pat Fagan said he was considering an emergency meeting to consider that step, but thought it might be too late to advertise in compliance with the state's open-meeting laws.

Five candidates, including Tiscornia, are due to arrive Wednesday for two days of meetings and job interviews with the board.

"I would think whenever you fill out an application for a job, especially as superintendent of schools in an area where we made it quite clear that the numbers count a lot, there's a concern there," Fagan said. "I don't think it's as bad as the first one, but it's still inaccurate information."

On Thursday, finalist Craig Bangtson, a retired superintendent from Kentucky, withdrew his name from consideration after the St. Petersburg Times confronted him with evidence of false statements on his resume.

Both he and Tiscornia were among four candidates that had been checked and recommended to the Hernando board by Wayne Blanton, a paid search consultant and executive director of the Florida School Boards Association.

Some board members expressed regret Friday that their search process missed such problems.

"I think people must think we're idiots," said Sandra Nicholson, who had previously urged the board to slow down and scrutinize candidates more closely. "That's why I don't like just resumes."

But board member Dianne Bonfield said she planned to keep an open mind and listen carefully to Tiscornia's explanations.

"Sometimes people can make mistakes with numbers," she said. "I'd need to know the responsibility they take when they make a mistake. I can live with people who make mistakes."

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or 352 848-1431.