Sunday, August 19, 2018

Pasco School Board member faces first challengers in his 12-year tenure

Allen Altman holds up his 12 years on the Pasco County School Board as a reason to send him back for another term.

"Quite honestly," Altman said, "Iím proud of what Iíve been able to accomplish for my district during my time of service."

He lists the construction of several new schools, addition of advanced academic programs, and a boosted school impact fee as examples.

Itís not enough, though, for his opponents ó the first heís faced since his 2006 election. They say that, while they want to run respectful campaigns, itís time for a change.

"He has had his three terms," said Kenny Mathis, a former music teacher making his first bid for office. "Give me my opportunity to make a difference."

Pasco newcomer Brian Staver, the sole candidate to qualify for the ballot via voter petitions, agreed itís time for new blood.

"I look at [Altmanís] record. Heís the childhood friend of the superintendent. Heís been there forever," said Staver, a retired systems analyst. "Their results have not been what the people of Pasco County have told me they should be."

The race for the District 1 seat representing east Pasco is one of contrasts.

Altman is a connected, but low-key insurance manager with a penchant for behind-the-scenes deal making.

Mathis, who recently resigned his teaching job amid an investigation, needs no microphone and enjoys a crowd.

Staver is a Pasco newcomer whoís a proud Democratic Party activist in a heavily GOP county.

As a group, they agree on a handful of issues, such as the need to bring a technical high school to the Dade City area.

But their solutions to certain issues illustrate how they differ in both tone and content.

Consider their views on attendance boundary rezoning.

Staver and Mathis both hit Altman and the current board for its approach to the reassignment of students from one school to another, as well as the outcome.

They suggested the board didnít listen to the public, adequately convey its intentions, or plan appropriately for long-anticipated rapid growth.

"The School Board, in my opinion, has done a mediocre job of communicating with the community," Staver said, suggesting better conversation might have brought more acceptance.

He said leasing unused retail property could be a short-term solution for classroom space. (The district explored and dropped the idea as not feasible.)

Mathis also criticized Altman and the board for waiting too long to develop rezoning plans that families can ease into. He said the district should allow students the option of finishing the highest grade level of the school theyíre in, even if it means filling a new school or existing open seats more slowly than desired.

He suggested creating academic magnets to bring in additional students, while waiting for zoned students to move up.

Altman is left to explain his actions and decision. Itís easy to sound defensive, he acknowledged.

But the realities of serving on the board arenít always what people want to hear, and theyíre something candidates with no track record can avoid.

"I can assure you with 100 percent confidence that we have vetted every proposal and listened to every person," Altman said. "At the end of the day, we are charged with making a decision that is right for all of Pasco County. As a result of that, there will be those that have a different opinion. I respect that."

Altman is counting on voters to appreciate his years of service on behalf of children. As one example, he noted that after years of asking, an east-side technical school finally is on the five-year projects plan.

He suggested that effort results from his positive relationships with the administrative team, fellow board members and other political leaders, and his deep community roots.

The opponents suggest itís a too-cozy relationship.

Mathis also is well known in east county, where his relatives have held positions in law enforcement and education. As a music teacher, his school bands have received accolades over the years, and he did, too.

His abrupt resignation from his post, amid an investigation into misuse of work time, raised questions. The district also had reprimanded him repeatedly in recent years, and he was working under a last-chance agreement. But Mathis insisted he wants to "be the voice of many" who often go unheard.

"Now that Iím not in a teaching position, I can say what needs to be said," he added.

Mathis wants to focus attention on improving school security beyond guards, and increasing worker pay.

He did not offer specifics on how to generate the money.

Staver, who moved to Pasco two years ago, said he was encouraged to run by people he met while working on the Hillary Clinton campaign.

"All my life Iíve been wanting to run for office. Iíve been wanting to do something positive for my civic obligation," said Staver, who served four years in the military after high school.

He said he wants to get rid of teaching to the test, improve student handwriting skills, shift public money away from charter schools, and get guns out of schools (including armed guards).

He supports seeking a new tax to help pay for employee raises.

"My strongest suit is my expertise in dealing with small and large groups of people," Staver said. "I am tenacious, dedicated, competent and persevering, and I have a passion that I donít think anyone can match."

If no candidate wins a majority, the top two will head to the November ballot.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at [email protected] Follow @jeffsolochek.

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