Wednesday, April 18, 2018
Education

Pasco teacher union leader rebuked for political speech

LAND O'LAKES — The Pasco County school district has rebuked United School Employees of Pasco leader Kenny Blankenship a second time this year for inappropriate behavior.

This time, Blankenship stands accused of making a political speech at a bus driver training session — something he denies.

Even so, he faces a ban from speaking at nonpublic district activities that are not spelled out in employee contracts.

"You were provided this time on the agenda as a courtesy," employee relations director Betsy Kuhn wrote to Blankenship. "Political speech during a training is inappropriate and will not be permitted in the future."

Blankenship said he made no comments on behalf of any candidate, party or position during the Aug. 7 event. Rather, he said, he was encouraging the staff to vote, because elected officials affect education policy.

"I think it's a little overkill," Blankenship said of the district's threat. "This is the second time I've been reprimanded by the district without them asking me anything."

In February, Kuhn warned Blankenship — who was running for USEP president — to check in and out of district buildings after he was seen scaling a fence outside Pine View Middle School. He said the district got that story wrong.

He similarly rejected the latest allegations.

A driver from Athenian Academy, a charter school, contacted the district and the elections supervisor Aug. 8 to complain about a "guest speaker" at his training session.

"This gentleman … spoke on nothing but promoting unions in Pasco County and advocating people for registering to vote for the Democratic Party. I say this because he flat-out mentioned that 'Gov. Scott is the governor because many of you just didn't vote,' " wrote Chris Brzostowski.

"I was very disappointed that he was allowed to speak and promote for another party and against my views in a program I was obligated to attend."

Assistant superintendent Ray Gadd noted that the USEP has contract rights to speak at new employee orientations. But political commentary is not acceptable, he said. Gadd asked Kuhn to investigate. She corroborated Brzostowski's story with others at the session.

Blankenship insisted he did nothing wrong in urging the staff to register and vote.

He did acknowledge, though, saying that "part of the reason we find ourselves in our current situation in public education and with our current governor" is because just 30 percent of public employees voted in 2010.

Blankenship accused the district administration of attempting to undermine the union during contract negotiations, which have not gone smoothly.

"They are doing all they can to delegitimize the USEP," he said.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614. Follow @jeffsolochek.

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