Masks, gloves come off in feud between Hernando County Commission, School Board

Tensions between the County Commission and School Board escalated Oct. 26 when board member Jimmy Lodato, left, gave an update on the new vocational school and defended the board’s decisions. “You guys spit right in his face and go against everything the governor wants in Florida,” Commissioner Steve Champion, right, said. “We expect no on taxes, no on masks.”

BROOKSVILLE — Tensions between the County Commission and School Board escalated Oct. 26 when board member Jimmy Lodato gave an update on the new vocational school and defended the board’s decisions. He noted that while county commissioners focus on things like overcrowding on school buses and cars backed up at dropoff and pickup, they aren’t seeing the good that’s happening.

The problem, Lodato said, is that past boards didn’t plan for the future like he and his fellow board members are.

“We’re trying to create a community where people look at us and admire us,” he said. “We need to work together.”

A company that was considering moving to the area told Lodato that it was worried about the infighting and disagreements between the School Board and the County Commission.

Commissioner Steve Champion said he was “frustrated” with the School Board’s response to the commission’s questions and remarks, noting that nothing has been done about the lights being left on at Challenger K-8 overnight and the cars stacking up outside schools.

“I can’t support anything you do with the School Board,” Champion told Lodato, adding that the letter from the School Board was “full of excuses.”

There’s plenty of waste in the schools, he added, and the board’s continued defiance of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ rules might have been why the latter would not pose with School Board members at the recent ceremony announcing the $6.1 million grant for infrastructure for the Citizen Success Center.

“You guys spit right in his face and go against everything the governor wants in Florida,” Champion said. “We expect no on taxes, no on masks.”

Later that evening, the School Board voted to end the mandatory mask mandate with parental opt-outs that it has instituted since early September.

“You only represent your party,” Lodato replied, adding that the reason he might not have seen the letter was because of the death of someone close to him over the weekend.

“I don’t appreciate you showing me disrespect when I come here in a respectful way,” Lodato said. “I am a man of God. You cannot treat me this way. I will not stand for it. My God has released me from my promise. I don’t have to sit here and take your crap anymore.”

Commission Chairman John Allocco tried to wrap things up as the conversation got more heated.

Commissioner Beth Narverud said that it’s important to remember that the School Board doesn’t work for the County Commission, and that she didn’t believe the governor deliberately shunned the board members. She said the reason she hasn’t been attending school board meetings as the commission’s liaison is because she disagrees with the mask mandate, and won’t wear masks anywhere they are required.

“It is important that we treat each other with respect,” she said.

Lodato concluded that he felt the governor had been respectful, and noted that state Sen. Wilton Simpson had been working hard on the vocational school for years.

“If we work together,” Lodato said, “we succeed together.”