The past four years have been difficult for the Pasco School Board. It has focused on cost-cutting while fending off a cash grab by the building industry, and it tried to comply with more state regulations governing such things as teacher evaluations, data-driven classroom strategies and even mandatory exercise for children. Simultaneously, it had to deal with an AWOL board member who has since retired and a deteriorating relationship with the superintendent.
Amid the sometimes chaotic administration of the school district, board chairman Joanne Hurley has served the public graciously and effectively. Her District 2 seat is the only contested School Board race in 2012 and voters would be well-served by re-electing Hurley to another four-year term. The Aug. 14 election is nonpartisan and open to all Pasco voters.
Hurley is opposed by Don Stephenson, 41, of Land O'Lakes, the associate creative director at the largest advertising firm in the state. He and his wife are the parents of four boys, three of whom are school-age and attend Pasco public schools.
Stephenson focuses nearly his entire political message on school spending. He thinks the board doesn't show enough fiscal restraint and he said the district should explore outsourcing more services like transportation, maintenance and landscaping. Notably, he also questions the wisdom and expense of the district running the highly regarded International Baccalaureate program, which he labeled as anti-American.
His position is contradictory. Stephenson also advocates for magnet schools, and the IB program is the only true magnet the district offers. Students must apply for acceptance, and transportation is provided to students living outside the attendance boundaries of its two hosts — Land O'Lakes and Gulf high schools. Killing the district's most rigorous academic program because it is globally focused is narrow-minded.
Likewise, a campaign touting fiscal responsibility is undermined by Stephenson's own personal bankruptcy in 2010. He has minimal ties to the community, having moved here from California less than three years ago. Responding to published criticism of his limited involvement, Stephenson said "community service is nice, but does not make one a good leader.''
Contrast that philosophy to Hurley's resume of educating children and serving the public. Prior to joining the board, Hurley, 67, had been a teacher, health educator and preschool administrator. She helped draft the county's land use plan and was one of the leaders of the 2004 successful campaign for the Penny for Pasco sales tax that built new schools, improved intersections, bought public safety equipment and preserved environmentally sensitive land.
Despite the inaccurate portrait painted by her opponent, Hurley and the board have been prudent spenders. In 2009, she and a board majority correctly set new capital spending priorities for administrators who wanted to budget millions of dollars of construction money for a new office building for themselves. Instead, the board directed the money to maintaining existing schools.
Hurley and others also raised enough questions about the skewed purchase procedure for new social studies textbooks that the superintendent retreated and acquiesced to her employees' recommendations on selecting a publisher.
The oversight is imperative from a board that refuses to rubber stamp administrative recommendations. The Pasco School Board needs Joanne Hurley and the Times strongly recommends her re-election.