LAND O’ LAKES — One of Pasco County’s longest-serving public officials has announced his plans to call it a career at the end of his current term.
School superintendent Kurt Browning, who won a third term in 2020, said Thursday he won’t put his name on another ballot. He’s held public office since 1980, when he first won the supervisor of election post at age 22, including time spent as Florida secretary of state under governors Charlie Crist and Rick Scott.
He resigned from Scott’s administration to run for the superintendent job. Pasco County is the largest school district in the nation to have an elected chief executive.
Browning, who will be 66 at the end of his term, said he made his decision now rather than waiting for the 2024 election cycle to give the system and the community ample time to prepare for his departure.
“This allows us to have minimum disruption and to stay focused on the work,” Browning said, stressing that he is not stepping down early. “We’re not slowing down. I will probably even push on the gas pedal even harder.”
School Board chairperson Cynthia Armstrong said she was not surprised at the news. After all, she said, Browning has spent 12 years in the post, which she called tough and high-stress.
The average superintendent’s tenure nationwide is five to six years — shorter for the biggest districts. Pasco is one of the nation’s 50 largest school systems.
Armstrong said knowing Browning’s plans will give the board and administration impetus to complete some of their goals and initiatives that remain in play, such as striving for a district A grade from the state.
When Browning came into office, he lamented the district’s ranking of 36th in the state. In 2021, the district ranked 37th in points for the state grading system.
“I do respect him for giving the two years’ notice, so we can make sure we have a number of qualified candidates to run for that position, because it is a very important position,” Armstrong said.
Two members of the current district administrative team — assistant superintendent Kim Moore and Krinn Technical High principal Chris Dunning — are possibilities, as they’ve signaled their interest in leading through their applications to the recent Pinellas County superintendent search.
Former state senator John Legg jumped into the race Thursday afternoon.
“I’m an educator. It’s what I feel I need to do,” said Legg, who co-founded and operates the county’s oldest and most successful charter school, Dayspring Academy. Legg holds a doctorate in education and helped fashion state education policy for several years as a lawmaker.
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He toyed with running against Browning in 2020, but decided against it. Having not appeared on a ballot in a decade, Legg acknowledged he’ll have to campaign hard to gain voter support.
He praised Browning for his efforts leading the district through difficult times including the pandemic, responses to the Parkland school shooting, rapid growth and other situations as they emerged.
“All I can say is, well done, sir,” Legg said. “It’s been a challenge to deal with.”
Browning has faced criticism over the years for his handling of many issues, including student masks, attendance zone changes and the district’s LGBTQ student services. Soon after his announcement became public, one of the parents who frequents board meetings posted on social media that it would be better if he leaves now.
Browning said he knows that some people will never be happy, regardless of what he does. They won’t sidetrack him in his work, he said, adding that he did not make his decision because of those parents.
“The political environment today is very vitriolic. It is very mean-spirited,” he said. “I just don’t have the gas in my tank to go through (a campaign) again.”
He said he hoped that as people reflect on his time in office, they will see the strides the district has made in areas such as providing more school choices, and recognize that “I deeply care about each of the kids that we have the opportunity to educate.”
(Editor’s note: In an earlier version of this story, former state senator John Legg said he had not decided whether to run for Pasco school superintendent in 2024. A short time later, he said he would run. The story has been edited to reflect the change.)
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