Hernando district wrong to fire all Moton teachers, settlement says

OCTAVIO JONES | Times Hernando County District Schools Superintendent Lori Romano listens to board member Susan Duval give her remarks on the firing of 47 teachers at Moton Elementary School during the board meeting. A crowd packs the Hernando County School District board meeting days after the April 24 announcement that 47 teachers at Moton Elementary will have to leave their jobs by the end of the 2018 school year.

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County schools Superintendent Lori Romano signed a settlement agreement with the district teachers union Tuesday night, conceding to the group’s claim that she violated its contract when she fired the entire teaching staff at Moton Elementary last month.

The agreement, which grants three wrongly fired teachers their jobs back, was made moments after a School Board meeting, during which Romano was publicly reprimanded by two officials for multiple things, including her actions at Moton.

The settlement is the result of a grievance filed against the district on April 20 by the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association. Union president Vince LaBorante called it a “win” Wednesday morning.

“This is a step in the right direction for the district to realize that we need to have more of an open communication and things need to be brought to the bargaining table for conversation, discussion and resolution,” he said. “I think we’ve set a precedent moving forward.”

Romano called the recent negotiations a “great partnership” at the meeting Tuesday, just before the document was signed.

“We’ve had some great discussions and have reached a settlement agreement,” she said. “Thank you for your collaboration and teamwork in doing what’s in the best interest of all.”

The agreement states the following:

• Fired teachers who were on one-year contracts with the district and rated highly effective — the best rating possible — will be reappointed to a position at Moton for next school year. The three teachers who fall into that category should never have been fired, according to the union’s contract.

• Teachers fired from Moton, but tenured with the district and therefore guaranteed a spot at another Hernando County school next year, will have a say in where they end up. The 18 teachers who fall into that category “shall be given the choice of at least three vacant instructional positions into which they may transfer for the 2018-2019 school year.”

• The amounts of bonuses offered teachers who take jobs at Moton next year will be negotiated with the union, rather than determined solely by the district, as they have been in recent weeks.

“The parties agree that they are bound by the terms of the collective bargaining agreement,” the settlement said. “The district will notify the association in a reasonable manner prior to the implementation of any Florida Department of Education mandates that potentially impact working conditions as they relate to school improvement for (Moton).”

Toward the end of the School Board meeting, board member Susan Duval read from a hand-written letter, lamenting that Romano’s actions created a rift with the union — and disregarded the board.

“The superintendent’s failure to inform board members of her Moton plan in a timely manner left the board scrambling for answers,” she said, continuing on to list several concerns she has with Romano’s leadership.

Board member Beth Narverud said she agreed with Duval and felt “misled” by the short phone call she got from Romano on April 12, the night before the 47 teachers at Moton were notified. The superintendent gave her only partial information, she said.

“I can’t even explain what I felt when I found out what happened to the teachers at Moton,” Narverud said. “I think it was a poor business decision, and I don’t think the board was in on that decision.”

Romano said she had to fire all the teachers to save Moton — rated a D for two years in a row — from being taken over by the Florida Department of Education if it earns a third failing grade this summer.

Starting fresh with a new staff will better convince the state to give the district another chance to turn the school around on its own, the superintendent has said.

Like others who criticized Romano’s action, Narverud disliked the timing of the Moton announcement, which fell during state testing. That may have affected student performance, she said, and therefore the results set to come out this summer. If Moton earns a C, the district regains full control of the school, making Romano’s plan irrelevant.

“Maybe, just maybe, we could get a C … We will never know because that school got turned upside down in the middle of testing,” Narverud said. “That is a horrible thing to do to students. It’s a horrible thing to do to teachers, and a horrible thing to do to a community.”

Duval said the Moton action isn’t the first time Romano has notified the board of big changes at the last minute. As an example, she said, members, last summer didn’t learn that Romano had shuffled the titles and responsibilities of three top district administrators until an item appeared on a School Board agenda.

“I am ready to solve problems,” Duval said. “I will also maintain a strong advocacy for leadership that is built on a foundation of trust, integrity, and honor.”

After apologizing to the audience for Romano’s actions, Narverud took a similar stance:

“I’m not sure where we go from here, but we’ve got to do something.”

Contact Megan Reeves at mreeves@tampabay.com. Follow @mareevs.

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