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School board race focuses on specifics

There's no question that both candidates in the District 1 School Board race have a commitment to education, and experience in the Pasco school system. It will be up to the voters to decide which candidate has the right kind of experience to serve on the board that sets policy for the Pasco schools. In the race between Republican Karen Marler and Democrat Jean Larkin there is no incumbent. After 16 years on the Pasco School Board, longtime board member Agnes Deal decided to retire.

Both candidates have experience in the classroom. Marler is a first-grade teacher at Pasco Elementary School. Larkin taught school in Pinellas County in the late 1960's. Each has experience in small business. Marler helps her husband run a body shop in East Pasco. Larkin runs a small antique gift shop in downtown Dade City. The candidates have been involved in districtwide committees that make decisions for all schools in Pasco.

With those similarities, Marler and Larkin have been highlighting the specific qualifications they believe make them the most qualified candidate for the job.

In her campaign, Marler has stressed that she has the most recent experience in the classroom and has "current knowledge" of what's going on in the schools. She has taught for the last five years at Pasco Elementary School.

"In the last five years, many things have changed in the system," Marler said. "That's especially true in District 1. District 1 is unique."

Marler stresses the need for more parental involvement in the schools. But she also provides some specific suggestions from her work as a teacher. For in

stance, Marler said she has made sure all her students have library cards and encourages them and their parents to visit the library regularly. As a result, she said, many parents have begun reading to their children.

Marler has called for more effective use of the budget money. As a suggestion for making the district dollars go a little farther, Marler suggests that the School Board not spend so much money on landscaping and trees and shrubberies at new schools. Instead, she said, the district might have vocational classes, or the San Antonio Boys Village, provide the trees and plants they need.

Marler also has stressed her involvement in districtwide committees and her work as a volunteer. Marler cited her work on school advisory boards and community involvement in programs such as Little League and the Chamber of Commerce.

Her work on the districtwide committees _ writing curriculum and training teachers _ has prepared her for a position on the School Board, Marler said.

Larkin points to some of the same kinds of qualifications. She, too, says her work in business has prepared her to handle the district's $262-million budget.

"Our School Board is big business," Larkin said. "The school district needs someone who's proven the commitment" to the school system. Larkin said she has proven her commitment by being involved in the Pasco schools for the last 15 years in parent advisory groups, districtwide committees and PTA's.

Larkin also stresses the need for more parental involvement and said the district should seek such involvement more actively.

Larkin is quick to point out her status as a political novice. "Politics is not my goal," she said at a recent candidate forum. "I want to make a contribution to our community."

But, for a political newcomer, Larkin has done an impressive job of fund-raising. During the last deadline for reporting campaign contributions and expenditures, Larkin reported spending about $19,000 on her campaign, compared to about $8,600 for Marler. Actually, the money has been spent in two campaigns, as Larkin had two tough opponents in the primary. Still, it's unusual for a School Board candidate in Pasco to raise $19,000.

If there has been an issue that has separated Marler and Larkin, perhaps that's it. Marler has questioned whether it is possible to accept such contributions without an expectation of something in return. However, Marler agrees that it is possible to accept contributions without an expectation of a payback because she has accepted $1,000 in contributions from the school employees' union, which endorsed her.

Larkin responds to such questions by saying that she is proud of the support she's gotten. She said most of her contributions have been from "the people who know me best." They include several school employees and administrators, and Larkin said those contributions indicate that people in the school system view her as a candidate who can do the job.