Martin County School superintendent candidates express animosity in their campaigns

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

ride that tide of what was created before for so long. At some point we're going to experience a lull, and we'll start seeing deterioration."

POINT/COUNTERPOINT

Allegations against Kline

Cheating: A Jan. 22 memo by Kim Sabol, the district's labor/employment representative, claimed Kline phoned Terrie Kenney, a former consultant and volunteer with the district, "for help in answering test questions" during an exam she took in 2009 to be certified by the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. The State Attorney's Office found Kline "probably sought and obtained assistance" but broke no laws. The state Commission on Ethics later dismissed a related complaint, citing "legal insufficiency."

Kline: "I have been vindicated" by both investigations.

Gaylord: "Everybody knows that you don't get assistance on a test. I don't care how you slice it."

FCAT irregularities: Timothy Romano has alleged district administrators covered up "a breach of security" during the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test in April while he was principal at the Challenger School, including a lack of proper instruction for teachers administering the test and a teacher leaving students "unattended and unsupervised" while they were taking the test. Romano claims Kline did not renew his contract because he refused to cover up the irregularities. The Florida Department of Education is looking into the allegations.

Kline: "All the proper protocols were followed" during the test.

Harassment: Lori Romano, the district's director of adult, secondary and virtual education, claims her job has been threatened because she refused to actively participate in Kline's re-election campaign and to persuade her husband, Timothy Romano, to drop his FCAT allegations.

Kline: "I vehemently deny every allegation submitted by Lori Romano, who I believe is disgruntled with the district due to the fact that her husband, Mr. Romano, has lost yet another position at yet another school district. His wife's allegations are false, unfounded, inaccurate, baseless and unjustified."

Allegations against Gaylord

District credit card: Emilio Gonzalez, an assistant principal at South Fork High School, filed a complaint with the state Ethics Commission alleging Gaylord improperly used a Martin County School District credit card to pay for trip to the National School Boards Association's conference in San Francisco in April 2007, a trip during which she stopped in Las Vegas on the way home. In May, the commission agreed to investigate the incident; no results have been released. Gaylord said she rearranged her return trip so she and her husband could meet with one of his clients in Las Vegas. A receipt shows Gaylord's husband paid for her flight from San Francisco to Las Vegas; emails between Gaylord and district staff show she paid the district for the trip and was reimbursed by the Florida School Board Association.

Gaylord: The use of the card was "fully vetted by the (district's) finance department. The documentation proves that I didn't do anything wrong."

Kline: Gaylord "violated district policy and states statutes. ... There was no school district business for her to attend to in Las Vegas."

Sunshine Law: Gaylord is one of three Martin County School Board members — with Chairwoman Sue Hershey and member David "Doc" Anderson — accused of violating the state Government-in-the-Sunshine Law by making an unannounced visit May 16 to the Stuart Adult Community High School. Citizens for Sunshine, a Sarasota-based nonprofit advocacy group, filed a lawsuit against the three in June. The case still is pending; but on July 27, a circuit court judge denied a motion for an injunction against the three, saying there was "no conversation between the board members and no decisions were made" during the visit. The incident also is being investigated by the State Attorney's Office for the 19th Circuit Court in Fort Myers. It was moved because Hershey's husband, Stewart R. Hershey, is a Martin County judge.

Kline: Gaylord is "being investigated by the State Attorney's Office based on that allegation. She's also facing a lawsuit. I think the Sunshine issue will go on for some time ... I think that's something voters should be interested in."

Gaylord: "I did not violate the Sunshine Law. The matter is still under investigation, and when all the facts come out, I'm confident that this will be found to be an unsubstantiated claim."

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