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Union snub stings Pinellas School Board hopefuls

Teachers running for the Pinellas County School Board are miffed they didn't win backing from what would seem a natural ally: the local teachers union.

The union's political action committee announced last week it was endorsing incumbent Linda Lerner over middle school teacher Brian Hawley and retired principal Terry Krassner over high school math and science coach Fonda Huff.

The committee also endorsed incumbent Peggy O'Shea over Greg Hunsinger, who retired as a middle school teacher last year.

"To back incumbents in a time like this and to back former administrators seems a step away from their principles," said Hawley, a teachers union representative at Largo Middle School.

If all things were equal, the union would endorse teachers, countered union executive director Marshall Ogletree. But the committee looked at many factors, and Huff, Hawley and Hunsinger did not prove they were politically viable, he said.

"I'm not saying these people can't win, but the three teachers that spoke before the group lacked the viability element," he said. "They didn't have any keen idea of how they were going to develop their campaign and pay for it."

Four of seven School Board seats are up for grabs. The primary election is Aug. 24.

Lerner, Krassner and Lew Williams — a former district administrator who received the union nod in the District 7 race — are former teachers.

Hunsinger, the son of former School Board member Calvin Hunsinger, said the union and the public should want teachers on the board with fresher experience.

"It would be nice to have some information from the front lines as recently as you can," he said.

In 2008, the union endorsed incumbent Janet Clark, a former teacher, over other candidates in one of three races on the ballot. (It later rescinded the endorsement.) In the other two, it endorsed a former School Board member and a chiropractor over teachers.

Clark won. The other two did not.

Hawley serves on the union's government relations committee, though he said he has criticized union leadership over some of its decisions and how it communicates with members. He was also invited to serve on the political action committee but could not because, at the time, he was considering running for the School Board.

None of the teacher candidates said they thought the union endorsement of others would hurt them. Huff said it might help.

"By losing their support I have gained support by so many other individuals, especially teachers and the public," she said in an e-mail.

Ogletree would not go into specifics on the performance of individual candidates in the endorsement process. But he said that beyond the viability questions, "there were very good reasons we did what we did."

"In some places, the answers weren't there," he said. "Okay, they were a teacher or a retired teacher. I understand that. But they still have to make decisions and understand the issues. Some of them didn't do as good a job as others."

Ogletree said O'Shea has been a "decent School Board member." He said Lerner is "our best candidate."

"The fact is, she's an incumbent who's been supportive of teachers for a long time," he said.

In an e-mail to members, the union said Krassner and Williams "have extensive knowledge of the school district, its policies and its needs" and have shown a "willingness to work closely" with the union.

Ron Matus can be reached at matus@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8873.

The lineup

Here's who's running for the four seats up for grabs on the Pinellas County School Board:

District 2: math/science coach Fonda Huff, retired principal Terry Krassner

District 3: incumbent Peggy O'Shea, retired teacher Greg Hunsinger

District 6: incumbent Linda Lerner, middle school teacher Brian Hawley

District 7: lawyer Keisha Bell, retired professor Jim Jackson, retired district administrator Lew Williams

Union snub stings Pinellas School Board hopefuls 07/03/10 [Last modified: Thursday, August 5, 2010 11:45pm]

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