STUART — Incumbent Nancy Kline says, "I'm running on the results I've been able to achieve for the Martin County School District."
Challenger Laurie Gaylord says, "I'm running a positive campaign, telling people they should vote for me, not why they shouldn't vote for her."
Despite the two candidates' attempts to appear above the fray, this year's race for the superintendent of Martin County Schools job is generally regarded as one of the most vitriolic of the campaign season.
The animosity between the two has played out at Martin County School Board meetings where Gaylord, a 10-year board member, and Kline, who represented District 4 on the board for four years before her election as superintendent in 2008, clash on a number of issues, most recently the district budget.
The air of hostility on the board is evidenced by the fact that candidates seeking open seats this year promise to bring "civility" back to board meetings.
During the board's July 17 meeting, Martin County Sheriff's deputies responded to an altercation between a Kline supporter and a Gaylord backer on the steps outside the board chambers in which, according to an incident report, "both subjects traded personal verbal insults at each other."
The "Your View" section of The Stuart News has been flooded with letters from the candidates' supporters, and online forums teem with postings that often are more acerbic.
Kline, who is seeking a second four-year term as superintendent, said this week that "voters are telling us they're concerned about Laurie Gaylord's apparent misuse of power and lack of qualifications," that "voters tell us that using a district credit card to pay for a trip home from Las Vegas is something they will not support" and that "voters are talking about Gov. (Rick) Scott's executive order to have her investigated by the State Attorney's Office and her ongoing litigation for a (Florida Government-in-the-Sunshine Law) defense."
Asked if the "voters" were right to be concerned about those issues, Kline replied, "Yup."
Kline said Gaylord isn't qualified to run the school district.
"She hasn't managed a large staff, she hasn't run a large organization," Kline said, noting her own experience before becoming superintendent included positions as executive director of the Jupiter-based Lighthouse Habitat for Humanity and the Early Learning Coalition of Indian River, Martin and Okeechobee counties.
Gaylord, a language and auditory specialist, countered that she has 10 years of experience on the school board and 31 years in education, formerly as a teacher and now in private practice.
"I'm a consensus builder, someone who values teamwork and has the ability to work with people," she said. "I don't have to know how to do every job in the district. I would take a teamwork approach to the superintendent's job, hire the best-qualified people for the positions and allow them to do their jobs."
Gaylord claims Kline has fired, non-renewed and run off many highly qualified employees.
"It's a hostile work climate," Gaylord told the Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers editorial board. "(Employees) fear retaliation and harassment."
As an example, Gaylord noted, "We've been without an executive director of (Exceptional Student Education) for more than a year."
Maryellen Quinn-Lunny resigned in July as head of the district's Exceptional Student Education program and filed charges with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after a report commissioned by the school board found Kline violated school district policies by creating a hostile work environment for Quinn-Lunny. The report by attorneys at a Jacksonville law firm found "sufficient factual and legal basis" for Quinn-Lunny to "successfully bring a Florida Public Whistle-Blower action against the school district."
Kline has denied allegations she created a hostile work environment for Quinn-Lunny. She claimed the report was "incomplete and (did) not encompass all of the issues." She also said Quinn-Lunny's job performance had several serious shortcomings in job performance.
Kline said the results of her actions as the district's chief speak for themselves: An increase in the graduation rate to 95.2 percent, the second-highest in the state, designation by the Florida Department of Education as an "academically high-performing district," an "A" grade from the state for the 11th year in a row despite significant cuts in funding and increases in students qualifying for free-and-reduced lunches, increased career and vocational education and two new parent resource centers.
Gaylord claims the district's successes have come despite Kline, not because of her.
"If you look at Martin County," she said, "we have so many highly-trained professionals in the district. We've been an A-graded district for 10-plus years because people have been doing their jobs so well. But so many good people have been lost that, if we stay under the current situation, we can only