Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Browning rolls to victory in Pasco school superintendent race

LAND O'LAKES — Kurt Browning stared intently at the screen displaying election results at his campaign party Tuesday night, refusing to accept what looked like an easy win as Pasco County's next schools superintendent.

"I want to see 110 precincts up there, or get a phone call," Browning said with 106 precincts reporting.

He stood at 64 percent of votes cast, compared to incumbent Heather Fiorentino's 28 percent.

Moments later, he got both. As the screen refreshed to show the vote complete, with supporters cheering around him, Browning dashed for the door, buzzing phone in hand.

"Thank you Heather," he said outside the Wilderness Lake Preserve Lodge room.

They spoke for a few minutes. He pressed off the phone.

"She just conceded," Browning said. "It's done."

With only token write-in opposition in the general election, Browning is expected to take the superintendent's seat in November. The swearing date has not been scheduled.

He planned to sleep in this morning, the first time since returning home from Tallahassee and announcing his campaign.

Fiorentino, 54, a two-term superintendent and former state legislator, will continue in the position in the interim. "We've got to continue working with Kurt to make this a smooth transition," she said. "His learning curve is going to be a steep one. I don't mean that in a bad way. It's going to be steep for anyone coming in."

She thanked her staff for all the hard work in continuing to make the Pasco school district better, saying she was proud to have had the chance to work with "the finest educators in the state."

Browning, 53, spent 26 years as Pasco's supervisor of elections before serving as Florida's secretary of state under governors Charlie Crist and Rick Scott. He resigned in February amid widespread rumors that he would run for Pasco superintendent. He announced his bid the morning after he officially left his state post, saying he had been encouraged by residents from all corners of the county to run.

He quickly found a groundswell of support, nabbing high profile endorsements — including some of Fiorentino's former backers. He collected almost four times as much in campaign contributions, which allowed him to spread his message of change.

He spent $30,814 in the final three-week reporting period before Election Day — just about $1,100 less than Fiorentino received in donations during the entire race. Running against an incumbent is an uphill battle, said Browning, who got his word out on television, through the mail and via social networking.

Browning's relentless message was one of a district that needs new leadership. Citing an district-funded report from the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, he spoke of a system nearly paralyzed by leaders afraid to act without permission from Fiorentino's office.

He said under his watch, the professionals would get the freedom to do their jobs as they see fit, with him holding them accountable for strong results. And, he argued, the district needed better results, pointing to Pasco's middle-of-the-road FCAT results in comparison to the rest of the state.

While trying to keep focused on education issues, Browning also had to fend off Fiorentino's attacks. In two separate mailers, she pointed out that he was a "double dipper" by taking a state salary while also collecting his state retirement pension, and that he hadn't always been a Republican.

She also accused him of "allowing" 1,800 illegal voters to register in Florida while he was secretary of state, a claim that was not true. The state never had a list of illegal voters, just one of potential names to review further. Further, the secretary of state does not register voters, according to state law.

Browning defended his reputation, but did not stray far from his themes of improving leadership and academic results in the school district.

The response was strong, including among current and former district employees.

"It was getting stale," retired teacher Kate Beeman said of Fiorentino's leadership. "Kurt is common sense."

Food services director Rick Kurtz said he was happy change is coming.

"Clearly I'm here because of change," Kurtz said. "I miss the days when directors were trusted."

Moon Lake handyman Ken Benson finished a distant third with 7 percent of the vote.

Staff writer Michele Miller contributed to this report. Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at, (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek.

Browning rolls to victory in Pasco school superintendent race 08/14/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 14, 2012 10:08pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. New World Brewery is closing. Where will all its concerts go now?


    Ever since it was announced that New World Brewery was closing its beloved Ybor City location and relocating to a spot farther north, there’s been an outpouring of nostalgia from artists, promoters and fans throughout the Tampa Bay music scene.

    Allison Weiss performed at New World Brewery in 2015.
  2. Farewell, New World Brewery: 11 Tampa music scene regulars toast a beloved venue


    It's hard to put into words what New World Brewery has meant to the Tampa music scene over the past 22 years.

    Matt Burke and Have Gun, Will Travel, shown performing at New World Brewery in 2009. Burke credits the venue with shaping how the band wanted to develop.
  3. Betsy DeVos rescinds Obama-era rules on campus sexual assault


    Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has said over and over again that sexual assault on campus is an issue she wants to get right.

    Education Secretary Betsy DeVos
  4. In dollars: How valuable are Florida's university football programs?


    The University of Florida football program is valued in a new study at $682 million, making it the most valuable university team in the state but still worth far less than several college programs topping $1 billion. Four years ago, UF's program was valued at just under $600 million.

    The University of Florida football program is valued at  $682 million, making it the most valuable by far in the Sunshine State. Pictured are UF cheerleaders leading the crowd in a Gator cheer on Clearwater Beach last December during the Outback Bowl Beach Day on Clearwater Beach. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  5. After 22 years, it's last call for beloved Ybor venue New World Brewery

    Music & Concerts

    YBOR CITY — Steve Bird spreads his tools across a patio table. He has awnings to unbolt and paraphernalia to unpry, from the busted Bop City neon by the stage to the Simpsons "El Duffo o Muerte" mural in the courtyard. He'll uproot a fountain and dismantle a roof and attempt to keep his bar intact. The …

    Various decor and memorabilia fill the walls and shelves at New World Brewery in Ybor City.
Long time music venue and hangout New World Brewery in Ybor City will be closing it's doors and moving locations. Patrons enjoy one of the last events before New World Brewery changes its location to Busch Blvd in Tampa.  [Photo Luis Santana | Times]