Six years ago, Republican-led opposition helped defeat a citizens referendum calling for an appointed superintendent of schools in Pasco County. At the time, nearly 59 percent of the voters casting ballots said they wanted to retain the right to elect the head of the school district.
So much for that pledge to democracy. Monday morning, former county commissioner and retired lobbyist Ed Collins ensured only Republicans will select the next superintendent unless a Democrat files candidacy papers by noon Friday. Collins filed as a write-in candidate for school superintendent on the November ballot, exploiting a loophole that closes the Aug. 14 primary election exclusively to party members.
So far just three Republicans: two-term incumbent Heather Fiorentino, former Secretary of State and ex-Elections Supervisor Kurt Browning, and Moon Lake handyman Kenneth Benson are running for the job of administering a $1.1 billion, 9,000-employee, 67,000-student school district.
Collins' ploy means 105,256 Democrats and 76,943 independents or minor-party members will likely be excluded from the decision. That means just 39 percent of the county electorate — the 116,736 members of the Pasco Republican Party — will even have a chance to vote.
Disenfranchising 61 percent of the voters after championing the people's right to choose the school superintendent exposes the hypocrisy of the Republican efforts six years ago. Collins, for his part, said neither major candidate asked him to close the election, saying only that Republican primaries should be decided by Republican voters.
It's the second time this campaign season that this sham has been used. Previously, the next-door neighbor of legislative hopeful James Mathieu filed as a write-in candidate to exclude Democrats and independents from participating in Mathieu's GOP race against state Sen. Mike Fasano and a third candidate.
The job of overseeing the education of Pasco's children is too important to be left to pols gaming the system and smug party loyalists poking the opposition. Since the Legislature has shown no inclination to close this loophole, then the public should. It is time to rekindle the public debate about replacing the current system of electing the superintendent of school. Considering the Pasco Democratic Party hasn't fielded a candidate for superintendent, perhaps it should make another referendum on changing to an appointed school chief part of its platform for 2014.