Saturday, June 23, 2018
Education

Pasco GOP leader fumes after being uninvited to speak

NEW PORT RICHEY — Bill Bunting was outraged.

The Pasco County Republican state committeeman had been invited to speak to Gulf High School students last week about his party's views leading to the November general election. He was to provide balance to the Democrat who already had made presentations to six classes.

Then one day before his scheduled appearance, the school uninvited him.

"I was shut out," said Bunting, who sent an email Tuesday complaining about the situation to School Board members and superintendent Heather Fiorentino, all Republicans. "Why would Republicans get shut out in Pasco County, and the Democrats be allowed to speak?"

He wrote in his email that a teacher told him that principal Kim Davis said some parents would be upset by his speaking.

"Since when does a principal have the right to present one political point of view and not the other?" Bunting wrote. "I am requesting equal time to speak to the classes I was originally invited to speak to."

He got his wish, after district officials took a look into what happened to get him uninvited and discovered a mess.

District spokeswoman Summer Robertson explained that the Democrat who spoke to the classes got into the school by claiming to represent the county elections office as part of an annual voter registration drive. Once before students, this person gave a distinctly partisan message that the teacher, Jennifer Dixon, sought to offset by calling Bunting.

In the meantime, district social studies supervisor Paula Lesko learned of the deception, and aimed to prevent further imposters from speaking to classes by sending a list of approved speakers for the registration effort. Bunting wasn't on the list, so Davis turned him away.

Hence his angry missive to the board and Fiorentino.

Once they put all the pieces together late Tuesday afternoon, Davis called Bunting, apologized and invited him back. Robertson added that, in the future, no partisan speakers will be part of the annual voting event.

This time, though, making sure students heard both mainstream views took precedence.

Bunting said he was pleased with the outcome, and he looked forward to getting a new date to talk to the students.

He had one other thing in mind, too: catching the people who misled Gulf High, causing the stir that followed.

"I want the names of these people," he said. "I don't know if they violated any election law or not. I will give it to our general counsel to investigate."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek.

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