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Pinellas School Board race pits educator against engineer

Pinellas County School Board member Terry Krassner faces a senior software engineer in her bid for a second term. The two offer voters clear differences in philosophy and experience.

Krassner, 62, is a lifelong educator, serving 36 years in the Pinellas County School District as a teacher, assistant principal and principal. Chris Tauchnitz, 46, has worked at VeriFone Inc. for 19 years, working his way up to senior software engineer.

Both Krassner and Tauchnitz have children in Pinellas schools. Krassner's stepson is in high school, while Tauchnitz has two children in elementary school this year.

Krassner said she believes that one of the School Board's biggest accomplishments was to hire superintendent Mike Grego almost two years ago. She doesn't want to see more fundamental schools, has been supportive of plans to expand magnets in elementary schools and pushed for the school district to keep its internal police force.

She said she thinks district staffers are working hard to improve low-performing schools. Melrose and Fairmount Park elementary schools were ranked worst in the state for reading this year.

"We're doing a lot better job bringing up every school to the standard that you'd want for your child," she said.

Tauchnitz, in contrast, wants to see more fundamental schools and doesn't favor an expansion of elementary magnets. He describes Grego as ambitious and knowledgeable, but he has serious concerns about a lack of transparency since Grego was hired.

Tauchnitz said there have been efforts to hold back public information, such as a potential change to the district's police force and reductions in special education staffing. The cost of new summer and after-school programs, such as Summer Bridge and Promise Time, wasn't clear before the programs started, he said.

"Dr. Grego is spending money and I'm not sure where he's getting the money from," he said.

Krassner was one board member who spoke out strongly about a proposal to turn the district's police force over to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, saying she was "blindsided" by the issue. The proposal was only released ahead of the meeting after a reporter complained.

She said she believes, however, that the special education staffing issue was misunderstood. District officials never publicly said that more than 200 special education aides could lose their jobs, despite public presentations about changes in the department. Krassner said she didn't believe there was an effort to withhold information. Staffing levels are constantly in flux.

"I don't think it came out quite the way it was," she said of public perception on the issue.

Krassner views her background in education as a strength and often references it when discussing policy and programs at the board table. She has worked in a classroom as a teacher and led as an assistant principal. She was also principal of Westgate Elementary for 16 years.

"I've committed most of my life to education," she said.

Tauchnitz said he believes there are too many educators on the School Board. Of seven seats, five members have teaching experience. He has a window into education because of his wife, Jenifer, who is a teacher, but said the board needs a different perspective from that of an educator.

"We need board members who look out for everyone," he said.

So far, Krassner has raised more money than Tauchnitz. She has about $13,500 to his $7,650, according to the supervisor of elections. She has also garnered several key endorsements, including from the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, Pinellas Educational Support Professionals Association, the Florida Public Services Union/SEIU, and the Pinellas Realtor Organization.

The nonpartisan race will be determined in the Aug. 26 primary. District 2 is an at-large seat, meaning that it's open to voters throughout Pinellas County.

Contact Cara Fitzpatrick at cfitzpatrick@tampabay.com. Follow @fitz_ly.

Pinellas School Board race pits educator against engineer 08/06/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 6, 2014 11:16pm]
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