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    School official on paid leave

    The woman in charge of Pinellas bus routes who once was injured in a school shooting is under investigation.

    By KELLY RYAN

    © St. Petersburg Times, published November 3, 2000


    LARGO -- Nancy Blackwelder, who survived a 1988 shooting at Pinellas Park High School and has been overseeing bus routes for the county's schools, has been placed on paid administrative leave during an investigation.

    State law prevents district officials from discussing ongoing investigations against School Board employees, but officials confirmed Blackwelder was placed on administrative leave late last week.

    Blackwelder recently has been in the news because she appeared at news conferences and on television with Republican education commissioner candidate Charlie Crist.

    Crist has proposed a "safety audit" for each of the state's 67 school districts. Blackwelder was an assistant principal at Pinellas Park High School in 1988 when a student shot and killed another assistant principal, Richard Allen. Blackwelder and a teacher were injured.

    In the ads, Blackwelder says she supports Crist because "I feel like he really cares about trying to figure out what it would take to make our schools safe."

    Superintendent Howard Hinesley and district lawyer Jackie Spoto said that the investigation has nothing to do with Blackwelder's support for Crist. Hinesley said School Board employees are free to participate in politics, as long as they don't do it on school grounds or during working hours.

    "That's not it," Hinesley said. "That's not it at all."

    Spoto concurred.

    "She is on leave as a result of allegations that we received before those ads ever began," Spoto said.

    Blackwelder did not return two telephone messages left at her home.

    Crist, campaigning in Miami on Thursday, said the ad with Blackwelder ran for about 10 days, but concluded several days ago.

    "I certainly hope that in this day and age that this would not be politically motivated," he said.

    Blackwelder was placed on leave on Oct. 26, two days after she appeared with Crist at a news conference in Tallahassee.

    Blackwelder, 48, has worked for the school district for more than 25 years. On her most recent evaluation, transportation director Mike Fleming rated her as highly effective in every category.

    She makes $62,732 a year.

    Spoto said information about the investigation won't be available until after it is closed. She stressed that placing an employee on administrative leave is not punishment.

    "We do it to facilitate an investigation," she said.

    Blackwelder has played a key role in discussions about the district's plans to let parents choose their children's schools in fall 2003.

    She has been one of the transportation officials who has traveled to other school districts around the country, studying how they provide school bus service.

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