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Runner-up becomes top choice

A salary conflict takes Harry La Cava out of the running for school superintendent.

By TOM MARSHALL
Published March 17, 2007


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BROOKSVILLE - One day he said he was fine with the salary range.

But the next day, would-be Hernando County Schools superintendent Harry J. La Cava said he wasn't so fine with it after all.

Speaking to School Board attorney J. Paul Carland, La Cava said Friday he wouldn't accept less than the $155,000 he currently earns as an area-superintendent in Broward County - $30,000 more than what Hernando had advertised as its best offer.

And so, as fast as they'd embraced him, the School Board dumped him and looked to their No. 2 candidate to replace the retiring superintendent Wendy Tellone.

"My support for Dr. La Cava has evaporated," said board member Jim Malcolm during a noon emergency meeting, saying the candidate hadn't spoken truthfully about his salary requirements during his Thursday job interview.

Waiting in the wings was Wayne Alexander, the director of school operations and human resources for the New London Conn. Schools.

Both Malcolm and board member John Sweeney ranked him Thursday as their favorite, praising both his level of preparation and sense of humor. Chairman Pat Fagan and Sandra Nicholson had ranked him as their second choice, and Dianne Bonfield said she'd be happy to support his candidacy.

Officials quickly reached Alexander by telephone, and were told he would be happy to negotiate within the board's $95,000 to $125,000 range. He currently earns $112,850 in Connecticut, said Hernando Schools human resources director Heather Martin.

Carland said La Cava had entered the state's Deferred Retirement Option Program, and had raised the possibility of needing to be reimbursed by the board for his contributions to that system if he left it.

Nicholson said that fact raised questions about how long La Cava would have stayed in the job had he gotten it.

"I am at this point ready to go and negotiate with Dr. Alexander," Nicholson said.

A common vision

Alexander, 46, earned a doctorate in education from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale. He previously served as an assistant principal in Sarasota and as a high school principal in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

In his current role as director of school operations in New London, Conn., he runs most of the nuts-and-bolts departments in a low-income school district of 3,400 students.

But it was his leadership philosophy, sense of humor and willingness to work closely with a strong-minded School Board that seemed to particularly impress his potential Hernando bosses.

"What I was impressed by was how much research he did on our district," Malcolm said, referring to Alexander's knowledge of the district's operations and structure. "I can only imagine what he'll do, given the time."

In his interview Thursday, Alexander emphasized his willingness to work with the board to develop a common vision.

"This school board has found a way to maintain a sense of family (amid) rapid growth, which is no easy task," he said, adding that his job was to provide the board with "bite-sized bits of information, data-driven" and continue that tradition.

But Alexander also ventured some suggestions, expressing amazement at the amount of work shouldered by Hernando's three division directors.

He backed the board's efforts to eliminate portable classrooms, which he termed an "inappropriate place to educate children," and said he wanted to find out more about community perceptions of "have and have-not schools" in the district.

None of those comments seemed to phase a controversy-hardened School Board, which focused most of its attention Friday on the possibility that it might fail to land its second choice.

Both Nicholson and Malcolm said they couldn't support any of the runners-up - New Jersey superintendent Ray Kwak, Brevard County area-superintendent David Piccolo and Duval principal Lorenda Tiscornia - and would favor starting the search from scratch if Alexander didn't pan out.

"There's still a pool of resumes there," said Malcolm, who failed to gain support Thursday morning to interview Hernando support services director Ken Pritz.

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

[Last modified March 16, 2007, 21:04:41]


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