LAND O'LAKES — With candidate qualifying still months away, the political gloves have already come out in the race for Pasco School Board District 2 representing central Pasco County.
Candidate Don Stephenson, seeking to distinguish himself from incumbent Joanne Hurley, has put out a campaign flier blasting Hurley's record.
Specifically, he targeted Hurley's recorded votes, which school district reports show never included a "no" during her tenure.
"Joanne Hurley has never voted against ANYTHING," the political ad states. "Think about that. While our schools are in severe financial dire straits, she voted to approve every single expenditure requested of the School Board. And that should give each one of us pause."
Stephenson, a 40-year-old advertising creative director for the 22squared advertising agency, said in an interview that Hurley's support for such expenditures as $8.8 million for new business software, as well as smaller items such as staff travel or board member iPads, prompted him to challenge her re-election bid.
"The individual who represents my district, I don't feel she has been discerning in her almost four years on the board," he said. "I have seen some items I would have voted no on. She has never voted no."
Hurley, seeking a second term after retiring as spokeswoman for the Suncoast Parkway, said Stephenson's interpretation of her record is overly simplistic.
She noted, for instance, that the board has made motions in the past to reject administrative proposals, such as a 2012-13 calendar that did not include a full week off for Thanksgiving. Her "yes" vote on that motion actually was a rejection of the staff position.
"If somebody makes a motion against and I vote for it, it's still a vote against," said Hurley, 67.
As either chairman or vice chairman over the past three years, Hurley added, she has had ample opportunity to shape the items that appear on the board's agenda. Some staff proposals never see the light of day until board concerns are handled, making it more likely that members will offer support, she explained.
For instance, the board refused to accept the superintendent's written proposal nearly three years ago to spend $15 million on a new administration building, so the staff removed the item from the budget before any formal action.
"This board is very involved and very active," she said. "We make our views known."
Hurley pointed to lengthy deliberations on the four-day school week this spring as another example that she's not willing to accept every idea that comes to the table. But even her rejection of that idea didn't appear as a "no" vote, as the concept never got past the workshop stage for formal consideration.
"I'm perfectly happy with my voting record," said Hurley, also a former teacher.
Stephenson, who has two of his children in the system, insisted that when the district is crying financial distress, some tough "no" votes are required. He further criticized Hurley for supporting a local option property tax for critical operating needs, which voters did not allow the board to renew.
"Rather than eliminating waste and focusing only on essentials, she favored simply taking more money out of your wallet," he stated in the flier. "Thankfully, Pasco voters told her no."
He wouldn't go so far as to accuse Hurley of being a rubber stamp, but said, "if the shoe fits, wear it."
Hurley said she had not met Stephenson and did not know much about him. That didn't matter to her, though.
"I'm going to tout myself," she said, "and not talk about my opponent."
Qualifying for the election comes in early June. The deadline to turn in petition signatures to make the ballot arrives on May 7.
Hurley already has submitted the needed 2,980 signatures. Stephenson has not, but said he will pay the $1,456 filing fee if he does not complete the petition. No other candidates have emerged for the District 2 seat.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.