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Pasco School Board chairwoman Colleen Beaudoin wins a second term

The race for superintendent takes a twist, while a second board member gains a last-minute challenge.

Educator and parent activist Colleen Beaudoin went unopposed in 2016, when she made her first bid to join the Pasco County School Board.

Four years later, Beaudoin won re-election to her District 2 seat, as no one stepped forward to challenge her again.

“I remain committed to improving schools and providing equitable opportunities for all students, preserving instructional time, advocating for teachers and families, and serving with integrity,” she said as the qualifying period for candidates came to a close Friday.

Fellow incumbent Alison Crumbley did not get off as easily. Crumbley, who won without opposition in 2016, netted a challenger in her effort to reclaim the District 4 seat she has held the past 10 years.

Joshua Stringfellow, a former district finance official who now works for the Pasco County government, joined the race, saying it is “something I’ve wanted to do for a couple of years.”

The race for school district superintendent also took a new twist.

Incumbent Kurt Browning, left, faces challenges from Hudson High principal Dave LaRoche and Bayonet Point Middle teacher Cynthia Thompson in the 2020 race for Pasco schools superintendent. [ Photos courtesy of the candidates ]

As expected, incumbent Kurt Browning and district educators David LaRoche and Cynthia Thompson all qualified for the ballot. Initially, all three pre-filed as Republicans, which would have created an open primary in August.

In the final hours, though, Thompson — a graduation enhancement teacher at Bayonet Point Middle — switched her affiliation to no party.

That move sets up a primary showdown between Browning, who’s held the post for eight years, and LaRoche, a 30-year district teacher and administrator. Only Republicans will get to vote in that contest.

The winner then would face Thompson in the Nov. 3 general election.

Thompson had come under some pressure to exit the campaign from LaRoche supporters, who suggested one challenger would have a cleaner shot at ousting Browning than two. She made clear she wouldn’t leave the hunt for the top job, but her party change gave LaRoche his chance.

She said she changed her affiliation because she wanted to be viewed as a candidate who’s not about Republican politics, but about people.

She also acknowledged a likelihood of having two relatively underfunded challengers take on the incumbent in a compressed election season with limited venues for campaigning.

“If all three of us ran, Browning was definitely going to win,” Thompson said, “and there was no way that change that I want was going to happen.”

The primary could become heated. LaRoche has criticized Browning’s leadership since announcing his bid, using social media to negatively contrast the superintendent’s moves on matters such as budgeting to those made by Addison Davis, who recently took the helm of Hillsborough County schools.

Just days before qualifying, Browning removed LaRoche from the principal job at Hudson High, where he had been for 12 years. That stirred up bad feelings among some residents who plan to protest at the board’s meeting June 16.

LaRoche said he was “not very excited” about the politics involved in becoming superintendent. But he said he was “gung ho and ready to go” in his effort to bring change to the district in key areas.

He said he was surprised about Thompson’s move, but added, “I think that it definitely helps me.”

Browning said he would depend on voters to decide if they’re happy with the district’s direction under his leadership.

“I don’t think anybody can rationally argue about the gains we’ve made in this district,” he said. “That’s what the voters will ultimately need to judge me on.”

He downplayed moving LaRoche to an assistant principal job at Mitchell High, saying administrative appointments and changes happen all the time. LaRoche already had made the decision to leave Hudson mid-year anyway, he said, as the superintendent’s term begins in November.

“I just felt it was necessary we have a continuity of leadership at Hudson High,” Browning said.

Incumbent Alison Crumbley is challenged by Joshua Stringfellow in the 2020 race for Pasco County School Board District 4. [ Courtesy of Alison Crumbley, Joshua Stringfellow ]

In the race for the District 2 board seat, incumbent Crumbley said she wants a new term to ensure the projects underway in northwest Pasco continue to fruition. She has spent time and energy trying to influence the planned improvements, and would like to be there “to see that they’re done and done right.”

Stringfellow suggested that Crumbley had enough time on the board, and he could bring a fresh perspective to the table. He emailed Crumbley before filing, asking if she would drop out and endorse him instead — something she declined to do.

“I’m not running against the district and I’m not running against the incumbent,” he said.

He said he wanted to bring his finance perspective to the board at a time when the budget scenario looks bleak and could need solutions.

This race will be decided in the nonpartisan Aug. 18 primary, in which every Pasco voter may participate.