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Pasco School Board member Kathryn Starkey stuns with verbal faux pas

LAND O'LAKES — Kathryn Starkey tried to swallow the words almost as soon as they left her mouth.

But Pasco County School Board meetings have no seven-second delay, or even a buzzer to cover over errant phrases.

So despite her best efforts to restate her views with more acceptable wording, Starkey had already collected looks of surprise from the audience and her colleagues by saying:

"When you piss off some and you please some, you probably did the best that you could."

She was referring to the district's proposed attendance boundaries for a new elementary school in Trinity and the new Fivay High School in Hudson, both scheduled to open in the fall. And, as evidenced by the reaction to the board's approval of the zones, she was correct.

Some parents jeered the board and accused the district of violating its own guidelines for student assignment. They didn't want their children moved from one school to another.

"We deserve answers!" one angry mom shouted before storming out of the boardroom.

In past weeks, though, many parents praised the district for taking steps to relieve crowding at existing schools, including Oakstead Elementary and Ridgewood High.

"At some point you grieve for those individual parents who are passionate," newly selected board vice chairwoman Joanne Hurley observed. "Yet you have to make a decision that is best for the district as a whole."

Board members seemed convinced that their vote to set the boundaries as recommended by the zoning committees accomplished that goal. And once their meeting ended Tuesday, they had as much to say about Starkey's comment as they did about the boundary debate.

"I couldn't believe it," newly selected board chairman Allen Altman said, suggesting the words are not necessarily the best choice for someone seeking state office.

Starkey, a Republican, is running for state House District 45, the seat held by Rep. Tom Anderson, who is being forced out by term limits.

Superintendent Heather Fiorentino told Starkey she had a list of alternatives for all sorts of unsavory words, all suitable for use on the campaign trail.

For this instance, Fiorentino recommended "vex."

"Say the decision might be vexing to some," Fiorentino said. "Vexing is good."

Starkey tried to laugh off her comment Tuesday night, suggesting it might soon fade away. But by then it had already been committed to tape — the district records all board meetings — and it also had popped up on at least one blog.

And as one person commented on the blog item: "While one might agree with Ms. Starkey's point, her use of language was most unfortunate. She did realize her gaffe and rephrased her comment, but the horse was already out of the barn."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Pasco School Board member Kathryn Starkey stuns with verbal faux pas 11/18/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 18, 2009 8:50pm]
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