Saturday, November 18, 2017
Education

Fiorentino mailer blasts Browning as double dipper

RECOMMENDED READING


LAND O'LAKES — Heather Fiorentino wants Pasco County Republicans to think of Kurt Browning as a "double dippin' former Democrat" with a "taste for taxpayer money."

The two-term school superintendent blitzed mailboxes over the weekend with that message about her widely known primary challenger, aiming to get voters' attention just before they receive absentee ballots.

"I don't begrudge DROP," Fiorentino said, using the acronym for Florida's Deferred Retirement Option Program. "I voted for it (as a lawmaker). What I begrudge is the person who does it, signs the form saying 'I'm retiring,' and then keeps coming back."

Browning, who received one of the ads himself, blasted Fiorentino for trying to change the subject of the campaign from education to politics.

"The reason why I pledged to work for no salary for at least the first year was to keep us focused on the education issues. She refuses to talk about it," he said. "Instead, she wants to talk about my retirement."

Browning entered DROP in 2005, while still Pasco elections supervisor. His official retirement date arrived five years later, while serving as secretary of state in the Charlie Crist administration.

State law provided that he receive his $426,897.40 DROP payout — his accrued monthly pension payments over that time, plus interest — within 60 days of his April 30, 2010, retirement. It also set forth that he would begin getting his monthly pension payment of $7,273.29 and stated that he could not take another job in the state retirement system for six months.

About eight months later, newly elected Gov. Rick Scott asked Browning to return as secretary of state. He has said he came out of retirement out of a sense of responsibility to serve the state of Florida. By taking the $140,000 annual salary while still receiving his pension, Browning got labeled a "double dipper."

"All I've done is follow the rules," said Browning, who is not eligible for any additional state retirement benefits. "If (Fiorentino) wants to talk about the past, she can continue to talk about the past. I am talking about the future of our children's education."

He repeated his comments that the district under Fiorentino hasn't made enough academic progress, with its FCAT results coming in the middle of the pack statewide. He criticized the incumbent's management style, referring to a 2011 report from the state superintendents association that pointed out poor morale in the ranks, among other problems.

"She hasn't done anything for eight years to make our district better," Browning said. "The facts speak for themselves."

Fiorentino said attacks like those prompted her to go after her challenger rather than simply highlight her accomplishments.

School district employees "work too hard and haven't had raises. We've cut back on personnel. They're wearing two and three hats," she said. Yet the district has shown overall improvement in its testing and graduation results, with the Tampa Bay area's top achievement ranking, she said, although she acknowledged that some schools continue to need much improvement.

"For him to make these off-the-cuff remarks at rallies, that's just wrong. That's not leadership," she said. "That's cheap shots."

She suggested that Republican voters might need a reminder that Browning isn't the conservative leader he wants them to believe he is. Browning switched from Democrat to Republican in 2002, saying the modern Democrats were not the same as the party he joined as a teen.

Fiorentino touts herself as the only lifelong Republican in the Aug. 14 superintendent's race, which also includes Moon Lake handyman Ken Benson.

She mocked Browning's offer to take a $1 salary for a year, noting that the superintendent's term is four years long. The state listed salary is $137,796, although Fiorentino has kept her pay at $134,400, foregoing raises while her employees did not get them.

"I think that's a joke," Fiorentino said of Browning's $1 salary offer. "He should have done that when he went back to being secretary of state. Not now."

Browning said he did not intend to let the attack sidetrack him from his bid to replace Fiorentino.

"This district needs a culture change," he said. "The only way it's going to happen is if we talk facts and deal with the facts."

Comments

Class notes

School Calendar• Nov. 27: School resumes after Thanksgiving break• Dec. 22: End of second grading quarter.• Dec. 23-Jan. 7: Winter Break.• Jan. 8: Teacher planning day. No school for students.Arts/Music/TheaterCenter for the Arts at River Ridge Middl...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Pasco’s 2018 Outstanding Senior hails from River Ridge High

Pasco’s 2018 Outstanding Senior hails from River Ridge High

River Ridge High School senior Connor Beckman has been named Pasco County’s 2018 Outstanding Senior.Commander of the school’s Air Force JROTC program, Beckman is also an Eagle Scout mentor, National Honor Society president and swim team captain.Beckm...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Pasco school district proposes future changes to west-side elementary and middle school zones

Pasco school district proposes future changes to west-side elementary and middle school zones

Plans to erase the attendance boundaries for Ridgewood High School have grabbed all the attention.But the Pasco County school district also has proposed changes to west-side elementary and middle school zones for consideration this fall.They’re just ...
Published: 11/15/17
Updated: 11/16/17
At St. Petersburg High, alums push to complete private funding for home field improvements

At St. Petersburg High, alums push to complete private funding for home field improvements

ST. PETERSBURG — The athletic facilities at St. Petersburg High are just like Bob Carter remembers from 50 years ago.He recalls it all fondly: The concession stands, ticket booths and bathrooms are still the same. The track is still outdated asphalt,...
Published: 11/15/17
In union push at USF, adjunct professors strive for more respect and a living wage

In union push at USF, adjunct professors strive for more respect and a living wage

TAMPA — Robert Ryan cleaned out his office in May. He knew he was dying.He had kept driving to the University of South Florida even as he lost the use of his left arm. He had kept teaching English, even as tumors ravaged his mouth so that he could ha...
Published: 11/14/17
Updated: 11/17/17
Hillsborough Education Foundation, Yoobi team to surprise students

Hillsborough Education Foundation, Yoobi team to surprise students

The kids at Bing Elementary knew something special was about to happen when a six-foot white dog with a "target" over his right eye walked into the classroom.And they were right.On Tuesday (Nov. 14), volunteers and corporate supporters joined the Hil...
Published: 11/14/17
Updated: 11/16/17
New aviation programs at PHSC help propel students toward dreams

New aviation programs at PHSC help propel students toward dreams

DADE CITY — Dustin Snodgrass has a photograph of himself as a child in the pilot’s seat of a kid-size model airplane. Snodgrass, now 28, recently took a big step toward his goal of flying real aircraft with his first solo flight through a new profess...
Published: 11/14/17
Updated: 11/16/17
Hillsborough teachers show up in the hundreds to clamor for promised raises

Hillsborough teachers show up in the hundreds to clamor for promised raises

TAMPA — A weeks-long salary standoff between the Hillsborough County School District and its teachers hit an emotional peak Tuesday as hundreds of teachers and students turned out to ask the School Board for their promised raises."War has been declar...
Published: 11/14/17
Updated: 11/15/17
Romano: Sorry teachers, you simply can’t win this one

Romano: Sorry teachers, you simply can’t win this one

When it comes to your principles, there is no shame in putting up a fight.You can fight City Hall, and you can fight the power. According to the song, you can fight the law. You can even fight the good fight, whatever that means.But you cannot fight ...
Published: 11/14/17
Hillsborough teachers plan School Board protest today as tensions heat up over pay

Hillsborough teachers plan School Board protest today as tensions heat up over pay

Today is the last time the Hillsborough County School Board will gather before the Thanksgiving break, but the usual pre-holiday vibe may be muted in a district that has fallen on anxious times.Hundreds of teachers are expected to show up in protest ...
Published: 11/14/17