Tensions rise in Hernando County over school superintendent position
House Bill 773 is approaching Gov. Ron DeSantis' desk, and if he signs it, it will be up to Hernando County voters to decide whether the superintendent will be an appointed position by the school board or elected by voters in a partisan election.
Controversy over current Superintendent John Stratton has gained steam in recent years.
According to state Rep. Jeff Holcomb, R-Spring Hill, who represents parts of Hernando and Pasco Counties, Stratton has been under fire for an allegation that the school board violated the state's Sunshine Law during arguments over a lawsuit against the county commission, controversial material within library books and most recently a K-8 teacher showing a PG Disney movie containing an openly gay character.
He says the school board members are not firm enough with Stratton.
“They're not really asking tough questions,” Holcomb said. “We had some Republican members get (elected to the) board who were just asking questions. Some of them are tough questions. I think the school district leadership and superintendent are kind of taken aback.”
Lisa Masserio, president of Hernando Classroom Teachers Association, said most parents and teachers are fond of Stratton and the way he has handled the situations that come up.
“The interesting thing was,” Masserio said, “one of the school board members, as they were considering the vote of no confidence, brought up the fact that when graduations happened across our district over the past week, the cheers for Mr. Stratton were just as loud as the cheers for the site-based administrator.”
The vote of no confidence against Stratton came at Tuesday’s school board meeting. Hundreds of parents showed up that night in support or against the superintendent. It was not until almost 2 a.m. when the school board voted 3-2 against the vote of no confidence. Masserio said the parents in support of Stratton came to the meeting wearing neon shirts.
“Those neon green and bright yellow shirts all said ‘Stratton Stays’ on the front,” she said, “and there were at least two to three times as many people wearing those shirts as the people who came to criticize and tear down our school district and call for his firing or resignation.”
Masserio also said the complaints are only coming from a small, specific group.
“I think the clash is between a political group,” she said. “Moms for Liberty does not represent very many parents who are genuine stakeholders in our district.”
Moms for Liberty is a conservative group that has been known to advocate against school curriculum that mentions critical race theory, LGBTQ issues and other diversity, equity and inclusion topics.
Since the school board does not want to get rid of Stratton, a partisan election for superintendent could appoint someone whom Holcomb and other Republicans who represent Hernando County support more closely.
“Doing more research on this issue,” Holcomb said. “I didn't have much faith in the superintendent and the leadership that he's put together. So, I thought the bill had really good merit. And [in] part of my research, Citrus County, Sumter County [and] Pasco County, they all have elected superintendents.”
If the bill is signed by DeSantis, it will need to be passed by referendum from Hernando voters in 2024. Partisan elections for superintendent would begin in 2028.