Tuesday, October 16, 2018
Education

Crist ad violates Pinellas County School District's rules

ST. PETERSBURG — Strolling toward the double doors of St. Petersburg High School, gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist says, "This isn't just a doorway to a school. It was my doorway, as a public school kid, to opportunity."

The 30-second television ad, which began airing last week, shows Crist walking through the halls of the historic school, his alma mater, where he was class president and quarterback of the football team.

There's just one problem. The political advertisement never should have been filmed.

The Pinellas County School District prohibits the use of school property for "advertising or otherwise promoting the interests of any commercial, political, or other nonschool agency or individual organization."

School administrators at St. Petersburg High violated the board's policy. A letter, written on the high school's letterhead, gave the Crist campaign permission to film on the campus. The letter states that there was no charge for use of the campus, and that administrators would offer the school to "any candidate regardless of political affiliation."

A copy of the letter released Wednesday by the school district was unsigned. A copy released by the Crist campaign was signed by Darlene Lebo, assistant principal for facilities.

Brendan Gilfillan, a spokesman for the Crist campaign, said they chose St. Petersburg High as the setting for the advertisement because that's where the former governor went to school. Students seen in the ad volunteered to participate; they were from Pinellas County but not necessarily St. Petersburg High, he said.

The TV spot attacks Gov. Rick Scott's record on education. Crist says, "When I was governor, we brought both parties together to open the doors of opportunity, not close them, and together, we can do it again."

Top district administrators, including superintendent Mike Grego, were unaware that the advertisement had been filmed at St. Petersburg High, according to emails exchanged about the issue. On Wednesday, the school district issued a brief statement, attributing the political ad to an "error in judgment" on the part of a school administrator.

Gilfillan, however, said no one from the district has asked the campaign to remove the ad.

Contact Cara Fitzpatrick at [email protected] Follow @fitz_ly.

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