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Pasco teachers union official in flap over fence-jumping incident

Kenny Blankenship is running for president of the Pasco district’s teachers union.

Kenny Blankenship is running for president of the Pasco district’s teachers union.

LAND O'LAKES — On this point, they agree: Kenny Blankenship jumped the fence.

After that, the details grow murky.

Pasco County officials said they recently received reports that students saw Blankenship scaling a chain-link fence to get into Pine View Middle School without checking in. That violates contract terms and must stop, district employee relations director Betsy Kuhn wrote in a letter to the United School Employees of Pasco, where Blankenship serves as vice president.

"The district takes this situation very seriously and expects USEP to follow the contract language regarding visits to all schools and worksites," Kuhn wrote in her Monday letter.

Blankenship, who is seeking the union presidency, admitted to going over the wall. But it wasn't to get in, he said.

He wanted out.

"I checked in at the front office," Blankenship said of the incident, which he recalled as occurring in late November when he visited the school for a teacher consultation. "Upon exiting the campus, I was going out front toward the gate, but the doors and the gate were locked. … I didn't feel like walking another 150 yards to find an unlocked door."

The following morning, he said, he went to the assistant principal to let her know what happened.

USEP president Lynne Webb explained that she insists all union representatives sign in when entering a school for work purposes. If the school is open, she added, they will check out when they leave, although that's not required.

"This is the way we've done business for the past 30 years," Webb said.

She fired off a response to Kuhn defending Blankenship and questioning the district's motivation in sending its formal letter to the union.

"I cannot help but wonder why this issue is being raised now. … I am quite perplexed as to why you chose to write a formal request without having all the facts or even interviewing Mr. Blankenship. It seems we are both expending unnecessary time and resources over a non-issue," Webb wrote.

Kuhn said she didn't consider the issue, which she learned of late last week, in any way trivial. School safety concerns are critical, with or without contractual agreements, she explained.

"A grown man scaling a chain link fence in broad daylight could trigger a lockdown or other unnecessary precautions," Kuhn wrote to the union. "This behavior is simply inappropriate and frankly unbecoming of a union official."

Blankenship said he did not make a regular practice of jumping fences into or out of schools, or of visiting schools without making his presence known. He also wondered why the district would make it an issue.

"I have no idea what the deal is," he said. "We've got several things going on they're not happy with me about."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at jsolochek@tampabay.com, (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

Pasco teachers union official in flap over fence-jumping incident 02/25/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 25, 2014 7:30pm]
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