Construction company owner Kenneth W. Benson of Moon Lake has jumped into the Republican primary for Pasco County schools superintendent against incumbent Heather Fiorentino.
Benson, 52, described himself first as a "decorated veteran," having served in the Army from 1977 to 1980. His son is a freshman at River Ridge High, enrolled in the ROTC program. He's also the owner of Eagle One Property Services, a company he acknowledged "isn't doing as well as it was," but it's still hanging on.
Seeking his first elected office if he can get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, Benson said he's not running against Fiorentino but rather for the chance to cut back the bureaucracy and politics that he thinks play too prominent a role in the school system.
"Too many things are dragged out when it's a simple 'yes' or a simple 'no,' " he said, contending that some decisions take longer to make than it took the country to fight World War II. "I'm not for waste and I'm not for bureaucracy. If a teacher wants to do something and it falls within the guidelines, do it."
Fiorentino, in her second term, filed papers earlier this month to begin her re-election bid. She is running on a record of improved graduation and dropout rates and stable finances despite difficult economic times. There has been expectation that someone would challenge her, though, amid decreasing employee morale and complaints by administrators in an anonymous report that says Fiorentino does not value their input or expertise.
The county's political circles still await word on whether Kurt Browning, who served 26 years as Pasco elections supervisor, will jump into the Republican primary. Browning, who will leave his post as Florida secretary of state in mid February, has said he is contemplating a campaign for the seat but will not make a decision until after the state's Republican presidential primary results are certified.
If Browning does not run, speculation has centered on a candidacy by former district assistant superintendent Ray Gadd, whom Fiorentino let go in 2009. Gadd has led Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services in Pinellas since Fiorentino did not renew his contract, but has remained active in Pasco County politics.
Gadd is an independent, and would not run in the August primary. Qualifying comes in June.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614 or via twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.