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Educators ponder loss of their jobs

Elected in November, Superintendent David Hickey is shaping a new management team, and those set aside reflect on their next step.

By BARBARA BEHRENDT

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 20, 2001


INVERNESS -- Three times during the past two weeks, Citrus High School principal Gary Foltz found typewritten and anonymous messages tacked to his door.

"They said I had supported the wrong person and that I wouldn't be around much longer," Foltz said.

The prediction has come true. Now Foltz wonders whether the authors' reasoning was accurate, as well.

Wednesday afternoon, Foltz was called to the office of Assistant Superintendent Linda Kelley. He expected a discussion about some leadership improvements he was supposed to be making.

Instead, Kelley told him he would not be returning to Citrus High as principal for the new school year.

"To say that I was shocked would be an understatement," Foltz said.

He was still reeling Thursday, as were other school administrators who learned Superintendent David Hickey was not recommending renewal of their contracts. Also on the list were executive directors David Watson and Bill Humbaugh, planning director Bob Brust and personnel director Sam Stiteler, who will take a job as assistant director at Withlacoochee Technical Institute.

Foltz said he couldn't help but wonder about the people on the list and whether the notes he had found tacked to his door -- and that disappeared out of his office several days ago along with other files -- might have accurately predicted what happened.

Hickey was elected in November. This was his first chance to assemble a leadership team. The election was divisive, pitting school employees against each another. Foltz noted the people not reappointed all had supported former Superintendent Pete Kelly and not Hickey.

After the election, Foltz talked to Hickey. "I don't work for you or for Pete. I work for the kids," he told him.

But Foltz still wonders about the motivation.

Just two weeks ago, Kelly, who now works at Citrus High, wrote Hickey a letter. Among other things, he reminded Hickey that Humbaugh, the executive director of support services, had saved the district millions of dollars by instituting new purchasing rules and making the transportation system more efficient.

"The Superintendent and the Citrus County School Board should recognize Bill Humbaugh for his positive effect on educational program of our schools," Kelly concluded.

Hickey was out of the county Thursday and did not return repeated phone calls.

"I don't have a comment to make at this time, but perhaps later," Humbaugh said.

Brust, the planning director and previously the longtime Homosassa Elementary principal, said the news caught him off guard.

"Yes, it was a surprise to me, but I was told that the purpose of this was to do some reorganizing," he said.

Brust said he was offered an unspecified teaching job. He planned to explore whether that or some other opportunity in Citrus, or elsewhere, would be his best move.

He declined to say anything about political motivation for the changes other than to note, "I didn't really support either side openly (in the superintendent's race), but I was supportive of Mr. Kelly."

Watson, a former board member who has worked at the district office only a year, said, "As far as direct reports to the superintendent are concerned, we serve at his pleasure. If he wants to retain or not retain us, it is his choice, and it should be."

He also said that he hoped to find a place elsewhere in the school district and that he would be willing to help create a smooth transition for his successor.

Stiteler has said she was pleased to move from personnel to WTI, where she had previously worked.

Foltz said he wasn't sure where he would end up either, but he was disappointed by the entire process.

A month ago he was told by Kelley, the assistant superintendent, that he needed to make some changes in his leadership approach. He had been working on that and was keeping track of the improvements. That was another of the files taken from his office several days ago.

But he thought that, once those improvements were made, he would be back at the school next year.

"I think I've done a good job here . . . and I was looking forward to the challenges of the next school year," Foltz said.

But even after he confronted Kelley about the notes on his door, he said she reassured him that everything would be fine. Then she told him he was losing his job.

"I thought that what we were doing was working on areas that needed improvement, which is just what we're expected to do when we work with our employees," he said.

Most disturbing for Foltz was word that half his staff had wanted him out of school. But by Thursday morning, when word of his departure had spread, Foltz said he didn't believe that could be true. He received numerous kind words from staff and students.

"I feel bad, but I don't feel as badly as I would if that had been true," he said. "I have loved working here. It's a great place to work."

School Board member Sandra "Sam" Himmel said she could understand that Hickey would want to carefully assemble his own team. "He has the right to do that," she said. "He's going to have four years to work with these people."

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