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Schools candidate details plans

David Hickey, who is running for school superintendent, says he would focus more on children and organize the district's finances.

By BARBARA BEHRENDT

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 2, 2000


INVERNESS -- Surrounded by a packed room of past and current school officials, outgoing Assistant Superintendent David Hickey on Thursday presented his plan for replacing his boss, Superintendent Pete Kelly.

That plan includes focusing more on children, getting the district's finances in order and involving everyone in the decision-making process.

"I will make educational decisions based on the needs of all the stakeholders," said Hickey, who is running as a Democrat. "I am student-focused, student-driven and I can balance a checkbook."

Hickey steered clear of specific criticism of his boss, who is a Republican. When asked whether the packed room of top school administrators, principals, teachers and other district employees represented his support base, his only response was, "They came here thinking I was going to buy them dinner," a comment that brought much applause.

Hickey's announcement included only a portion of the dire financial predictions that another candidate for superintendent, Republican Tom Mullins, had said he expected to hear.

Earlier this week, Mullins asked for Kelly's resignation, saying that his own research has shown that Kelly has crippled the school system's budget to the point that the district will be bankrupt in the next one or two years. Kelly and district finance director Sara Perez say that the district has had financial problems, but that those have been turned around and there is no danger of bankruptcy.

Hickey agreed that bankruptcy was not what he was forecasting. However, "the public and the press need to look closely at the issues raised to come to an accurate and informed conclusion," he said during the news conference, which was held at the Golden Corral restaurant in Inverness.

Mullins said earlier this week that he would quit the race if his allegations were mistaken. Mullins, who was among those who attended the news conference, asked Hickey about the financial situation.

Hickey said Mullins didn't realize that many steps had been taken since last year to keep the district solvent. Still, he said, the district's financial roller coaster must stop.

"I'm disappointed," Mullins said later. But he also said he didn't want to comment at Hickey's event and would say later this week whether he would stay in the race.

The lineup in the superintendent race pits Mullins against Kelly as the only declared Republicans, while Hickey will face Lecanto Primary School teacher Chris Becker in the Democratic primary. Ansel Briggs is running for the job without a party affiliation.

Hickey spoke about his focus on children, his intent to value employees, his improvement management practices to help the budget, team building, school facilities and school safety. He said more specifics would come later.

When asked by a teacher whether a superintendent really could have an effect on the classroom, Hickey said, "I'm not in this race to be a superintendent unless I can make a difference in the classroom.

"I should be down there seeing what I can do."

That response brought strong applause from the crowd, as did his promise to "have the healthy programs for teachers so they can have the morale they used to have."

Hickey, 56, has been assistant school superintendent since the middle of 1998. Previously, he had been principal at Crystal River Middle School since 1990. Before that he spent 18 years at Crystal River High School, teaching, coaching and in administration.

In February, Kelly said he planned to return Hickey to the principal's job at Crystal River Middle School because Hickey had requested the move. At the time, Hickey's only public comment on the schools came through another top Kelly administrator who also had asked to return to a school as principal -- executive director of management services Roberta Long.

Both took pay cuts of roughly $4,500 each for the new assignments. In a written statement, Long said that she and Hickey made the move because they wanted to be back with children and managing schools.

At the time, Kelly said he knew the departures would be perceived by some as people leaving a sinking ship, but he said he thought they just wanted to be back in a school setting again.

Long was at Hickey's side at the Thursday announcement. She introduced Hickey as "our candidate" and said, "I have found him to be a man of integrity and honesty with the best interest of students."

Hickey said he had planned to be the middle school's principal to do what he could for students there. But after encouragement from the community, he decided he could do more for the district's 15,000 students and 2,000 staff as the district's leader.

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Information from Times files used in compiling this report.

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