The Pasco County School District is finally emerging from a prolonged period of cutting budgets and limiting expansions of its academic offerings. A new Cambridge program for high achievers begins this month in Pasco middle and high school in Dade City, the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Academy starts its first full year at Sunlake High School and the district is about to begin construction on a science, technology and mathematics-based elementary school in Land O'Lakes.
Two school board incumbents, Alan Altman and Cynthia Armstrong, drew no opposition and have been re-elected. Only District 5 School Board member Steve Luikart drew a challenger for the Aug. 26 nonpartisan race that is open to all voters. Board members must live in their districts, but are elected countywide.
Luikart's opponent is Dr. Marc Yacht, 74, who retired as the Pasco County director of the state Health Department in 2007. Yacht has the intellect and the passion to handle the School Board duties and correctly identifies problematic policies coming from Tallahassee. But he hasn't made the case for replacing Luikart, an independent-minded board member least likely to rubber stamp an administrative policy.
Since his retirement, Yacht volunteers at two west Pasco medical clinics treating the needy and said he wants to share his medical expertise with the board. His platform includes having a nurse at each school. But that's a proposal that could add as much as $1.7 million to the payroll if the district hired 37 registered nurses to supplement the existing 40 nurses serving 77 schools. That is an expensive luxury considering the district is just one year removed from combining three job descriptions into one (media/technology/reading) to help make ends meet.
Luikart is used to the challenges of trying to balance the School District's budget and he cast the only dissenting vote on the 2012-13 spending plan, saying administrators didn't work hard enough to spare classrooms from cuts. Likewise, he initiated his own task force to investigate the potential cost-savings of moving to a four-day school week after suspecting district financial administrators hadn't dug deep enough in their research.
Luikart, 63, worked 32 years for the district before retiring six years ago as assistant principal at River Ridge High School, but his heart remains in vocational education. He continues his advocacy for more real-life job training for students unlikely to extend their education beyond high school. His school-based experience is an imperative asset considering the rest of the board and the district's top administrators spent little or no time as classroom educators.
In the Pasco County School Board District 5 race in the Aug. 26 primary, the Tampa Bay Times recommends voters re-elect Steve Luikart.