Pinellas teachers union endorsements irritate teacher candidates
UPDATE at 6:31 p.m.: PCTA executive director Marshall Ogletree offers his response at the end of this post.
The teachers running for Pinellas school board this year are miffed they didn't win backing from what would seem a natural ally: the teachers union.
The union's political action committee chose incumbent Linda Lerner over middle school teacher Brian Hawley and retired principal Terry Krassner over math/science coach Fonda Huff. The union's PAC also endorsed incumbent Peggy O'Shea over Greg Hunsinger, who retired as a teacher last year.
"Very frustrated" is how Hawley, a teachers union representative at Largo Middle School, described his reaction to The Gradebook. "I understand politically why they made the choice," he said. "But to back incumbents in a time like this, and to back former administrators, seems a step away from their principles."
"During the past School Board elections the 'teacher' union has always endorsed an administrator over a teacher," Huff said in an e-mail to The Gradebook. "That is why so many teachers refuse to join the union ... They feel that the 'teacher' union is really an administrator union, and once again the union has proved that very point."
Lerner, Krassner and Lew Williams - a former district administrator who received the union nod in the District 7 race - are former teachers. The union briefly explained itself here.
In 2008, the PCTA endorsed incumbent Janet Clark, a former teacher, over other candidates in one of the three races up for grabs. (It later rescinded the endorsement.) It endorsed a former school board member and a chiropractor over teachers in the other two. Clark won. The other two did not.
Hawley said he has been critical of union leadership over some of its decisions and, even more so, how it communicates with members. But he's on solid-enough footing to serve on the union's government relations committee. He also said president Kim Black asked him to serve on the PAC committee, but he could not because, at the time, he was considering running for school board.
Both Hawley and Huff said they did not think the union endorsement of others would hurt them. Huff said it might even help. "By losing their support I have gained support by so many other individuals, especially teachers and the public," she said in the e-mail.
Ogletree's response: If all things were equal, the PCTA PAC would endorse teachers, Ogletree told The Gradebook. But the committee has to look at a number of factors, including political viability - and that's something all three teachers candidates (Huff, Hawley and Hunsinger) lacked, he said.
"I'm not saying these people can't win, but the three teachers that spoke before the group lacked the viability element," he said. "They didn't have any keen idea of how they were going to develop their campaign and pay for it. That was the commonality of the three teachers."
Ogletree would not go into specifics on the performance of individual candidates in the endorsement process. But he said "there were very good reasons we did what we did."
"In some places, the answers weren't there and the plans weren't there," he said. "Okay, they were a teacher or a retired teacher. I understand that. But they still have to make decisions and understand the issues. Some of them didn't do as good a job as others."
He said O'Shea has been a "decent school board member." He called Lerner "our best candidate."
"The fact is, she's an incumbent who's been supportive of teachers for a long time," he said.