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Across the political divide, Pasco School Board candidates agree on opposition to Amendment 8

The measure, which ties three loosely related education issues together, faces a court challenge to remain on the ballot.
The Florida Constitution Revision Commission meets every 20 years to consider amending the state's guiding government document. [Times/Herald | 2017]
The Florida Constitution Revision Commission meets every 20 years to consider amending the state's guiding government document. [Times/Herald | 2017]
Published Jul. 26, 2018

The 10 candidates for three Pasco County School Board seats range from liberal Democrat to conservative Republican. They disagree on subjects from campus security to student assignment.

On one thing, though, all arrive at the same conclusion, even if for different reasons.

They don't support proposed Amendment 8 to the Florida constitution, a three-pronged initiative that would establish school board term limits, codify civics education in public schools, and pave the way for a state authorizer of charter and other schools.

"Amendment 8 is just plain bad," said Brian Staver, a candidate for the District 1 seat representing east Pasco.

Staver, a Democratic Party activist, said he backed the need for civics education. But he saw no real value in term limits and vigorously opposed the section that would give lawmakers more leeway to establish public schools outside the purview of school boards.

"That's going to be the death of our public school system," Staver said.

The dampening of board oversight of all public schools in their counties was, in fact, the key issue that led most of the candidates to oppose the amendment — even if they back publicly funded charter schools and other "choice" options.

"I am a firm believer in term limits," said District 5 candidate Megan Harding, adding she also believes funding should follow students to charter schools. "But I believe in local control. So I don't like the fact that the state would take away local control."

Harding, an elementary school teacher, said tying them together would likely lead her to vote against the entire package.

District 3 incumbent Cynthia Armstrong, a real estate agent, said the Constitution Revision Commission did a disservice to voters by bundling three issues only tangentially tied together under the "education" umbrella.

"All of the amendments would be worthy of being put before the voters if they were put out there separately," Armstrong said.

But wrapped together, she observed, voters could be forced to accept things they reject, or vote against ideas they support.

Several candidates said they viewed the proposal as misleading, or worse, as the League of Women Voters has contended in its lawsuit aiming to keep the measure off the November ballot.

Leon County Judge John Cooper has scheduled a motion hearing for 9:30 a.m. Aug. 17.

Amendment 8 "really is meant to confuse," said District 5 candidate Mike Aday, an active union teacher who called himself 50-50 on term limits and firmly against the local control provision, which he another others noted does not mention charter school authorization despite beginning its life as a proposal specifically for that goal.

Aday added that, in his view, the civics piece is just another piece to distract from the most controversial piece. He teaches middle school social studies, and said the state already uses the 2010 Sandra Day O'Connor Act to require students take civics in middle school and pass a state civics exam without it being in the constitution.

In the end, the consensus among the candidates was that the good did not outweigh the bad of the ballot measure.

"I don't support it, not as a whole," said District 3 candidate Heide Janshon, a parent activist who first got involved in education issues as a Common Core opponent. "I might consider the school board term limits, but the charter school thing, taking that power … I do think we still need that speed bump."

The other candidates running for Pasco School Board are Allen Altman and Kenny Mathis in District 1, Meghan Hamer in District 3, and Kassie Hutchinson and Tara O'Connor in District 5.

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