LAND O'LAKES — One thing became crystal clear during the race for Pasco superintendent: The school employees association had no love for incumbent Heather Fiorentino.
The United School Employees of Pasco campaigned heavily for challenger Steve Donaldson, making no secret of its disdain for Fiorentino's way of doing business. Members went door to door asking voters to help oust her.
Then Fiorentino triumphed, besting Donaldson by nearly 13,000 votes. Her victory prompted the logical question of whether the political combatants could overlook the campaign rhetoric and work together in the economically challenging times that lie ahead.
School Board Chairwoman Kathryn Starkey said improved relations are a necessity to accomplish the best results for students and employees.
"I am hopeful, since they both know they are going to be working together for another four years, that (USEP president) Lynne Webb and Heather Fiorentino can patch up their differences," Starkey said.
Webb signaled her willingness to work with whomever the voters select as superintendent. That's been the union's policy all along, she added.
The association just needs someone to reciprocate, she said.
"All along, she (Fiorentino) has had this attitude that 'I'll make the decisions and you agree,' and when we do, that's 'working together,' " Webb said. "Working together doesn't mean acquiescence."
She called upon the superintendent to treat the group as a "key stakeholder and partner," and less as a nuisance requiring attention because of legal relationships.
"Of course it's a two-way street," Webb said. "But she is the superintendent of schools. ... When things come to her attention, she needs to be out there communicating. We do that all the time."
Even during her victory speech, Fiorentino acknowledged the need to have better connections with the employees.
"The election is over, and now it's time to bond and work as a team," she said during a later interview. "I think we both have to come to the table and we both have to work on it."
She expected to get together with key employee leaders, perhaps as early as next week, to hash out the details. Fiorentino did not want to share more specifics, though, saying she didn't want to make promises she can't keep or to inadvertently aggravate the tense situation.
"I think that members and nonmembers at this point realize that we are a team and that it has gone too far and we need some healing," Fiorentino said.
Board Vice Chairman Frank Parker figured that the School Board has a role to play in bettering relations, too. After all, he noted, the budget issues that riled so many employees emerged from the board, which controls the spending plan.
"They got mad at the superintendent, but she was basically, to a certain degree, relaying our message," Parker said. "We just need to rectify the communication. That solves all issues."
Starkey agreed that the board must do its part.
"When the whole contract thing is over, I look forward to taking Lynne out to lunch and having a good conversation with her," Starkey said.
Webb said she looked forward to any overtures from the board and, particularly, the superintendent that might find ways for everyone to work together better.
"We're ready to hold her (Fiorentino) to that campaign promise," she said.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.