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Hernando superintendent's evaluation includes praise, sharp criticism

BROOKSVILLE — An annual evaluation of superintendent Lori Romano by the Hernando School Board this week made clear that the view of her performance is a mix of harsh criticism and enormous praise.

But the Tampa Bay Times' request for evaluation documents was denied by the school district, whose attorney cited a Florida statute that states: "No material derogatory to an employee shall be open to inspection until 10 days after the employee has been notified."

Romano on Wednesday confirmed she had received the completed evaluations, a series of questions and numerical ratings, and plans to read through them soon.

"Due to derogatory comments being made publicly, there is a statute that allows me time to review the evaluations and to provide a public response," she said.

Tuesday's School Board meeting began with a presentation by Romano, who had in tow nine large binders holding thousands of pages of "evidence" to illustrate her successes since she was appointed to the superintendent's post in 2013. The paperwork supported nine standards — leadership and district culture, policy and governance, communication and public relations, organizational management, curriculum development, instructional leadership, human resources management, values and ethics of leadership and labor relations — included in the evaluation instrument, created by the School Board during the 2014-15 school year.

Board members got their first look at the binders late Monday, a day before the meeting, when evaluations were due. Last year, board members said, they had about a month to review materials.

At the meeting, board Chairwoman Beth Narverud and board members Linda Prescott and Susan Duval expressed concerns about the timing. Romano told the Times on Wednesday that "the board established the timeline" to provide time for the completion of a districtwide survey of employees, completed in July by a University of South Florida professor. That survey gave Romano a rating of 2.86 on a scale of 5.

MORE: View results of the districtwide survey here

Duval questioned how long Romano's evidence took district staffers to gather, to which Romano replied "an enormous amount of time."

"Our district staff levels are pretty low," Duval said. ". . . It concerns me that, considering the amount of material that was collected, that they would spend a lot of time involved in the collection of evidence when they can just barely breathe during the day with the responsibilities they have."

Prescott agreed, saying she was "more concerned about quality than quantity," then listed what she would like Romano to work on, including communication with the School Board and the "difficult working environment" experienced by the staffs at district schools.

"Teachers are afraid to speak up. . . . I would like that area to improve," she said. "I would like to see relationships . . . where they could get to the point where they could freely share information and not fear that they might lose their jobs or be demoted."

Board members Mark Johnson and Gus Guadagnino both gave glowing reviews. Guadagnino said he gave the superintendent an outstanding rating in every category.

"I could never do what you do; I could never sit there and be attacked," he said. "The leadership that you have brought to this county has never existed before."

Johnson called Romano "effective to highly effective in moving this district forward in difficult financial times." He said his review was based on the four "indicators for performance" included in Romano's contract — student attendance, graduation rate, industry certifications and dropout rate — all of which have improved under her leadership. Romano is in the fifth year of a seven-year contract.

Narverud spoke last, beginning by saying her and Romano's relationship "has been strained." She charged the superintendent with inappropriate and intimidating behavior, saying Romano once cornered and reprimanded her in front of other administrators inside a storage room.

She said Romano regularly promotes "a lack of transparency" by blocking or delaying public records requests, then told the superintendent she "put up many roadblocks" on the districtwide survey.

It "was blocked, delayed, challenged. . . . The USF professionals were verbally attacked during their presentation of results," she said.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Hernando school leaders question value of evaluation of superintendent

Narverud said she rated Romano highest in organizational management for her work during Hurricane Irma, when several schools were opened as community shelters.

"Leadership before, during and after the hurricane were outstanding," she said. ". . . I just wish she would trust in all of us and just do that in all of her work."

Contact Megan Reeves at [email protected] Follow @mareevs.

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