The conservative wave that swept many school boards across Florida did not make much of a dent in Republican-leaning Pasco County this November.
Activists want to do better in 2024. So they’re getting started early.
Less than a month after the general election concluded, two parents who strongly support Gov. Ron DeSantis’ education agenda announced their candidacies for posts in the Pasco school district.
Firefighter Shawn Hayston, who has two sons in the district, filed paperwork indicating his intention to run for school board District 4, a nonpartisan post currently held by Alison Crumbley. And Michelle Mandarin, whose daughter is a student in the district, pre-filed to seek the Republican nomination for the superintendent’s seat being vacated by Kurt Browning.
“My reason for filing early is because I want to hit the ground running,” said Hayston, who plans to spend much of his campaign visiting voters at their homes to discuss their concerns.
Mandarin, who regularly attends board meetings and offers her views in video podcasts, did not return a call seeking comment.
Cathy Julian, an organizer with a conservative coalition called Pasco Watch, said she viewed both hopefuls as strong candidates to take the district in a different direction. She said she expected to see more conservative hopefuls declaring their intentions for school board, county commission and other government seats in short order.
It takes time, she said, to create name recognition and collect campaign contributions as a first-time candidate in a county where the establishment is strong.
“We plan to have a bigger footprint this election cycle,” Julian said, noting that none of her preferred candidates won in 2022. “We want to get an earlier start this time around.”
Steve Meisman, who unsuccessfully ran for school board District 1 to eliminate “woke nonsense,” said he would have benefited from a longer campaign getting to know residents and their views. He first announced his candidacy in March of this year, five months before the August primary.
He spent less than one-tenth of the money spent by eventual winner Al Hernandez, who had Gov. Ron DeSantis’ endorsement.
“Looking back, it would have been fantastic to have another year to establish name recognition,” Meisman said. “If I had more time, I think I could have beaten him despite the fact that the governor was involved.”
Hayston first got involved with school issues by speaking out against mandatory masking and quarantining of students exposed to COVID-19. He said he did not want to wait until the last minute to jump in, adding that he believes there’s too much that needs attention within the school district.
“I don’t feel the school board is currently listening to the parents and their concerns at all,” said Hayston, who had a run-in with a district principal while visiting a school, and who says he’s yet to get what he views as a satisfactory response from the administration.
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Hayston recently attended a board meeting and offered to talk to any board member or administrator who was willing to review his situation. None approached him before he left the building.
He said he plans to run on a platform that includes improving student academic achievement and ensuring that parents are not treated like extremists if they come to the board with a grievance.
“If I was on the school board, I would follow HB 1557 (the new “parental rights in education” law, also called the “don’t say gay” law by critics) to the exact letter,” he added.
Mandarin has regularly criticized the district on issues such as sex education, equity and critical race theory, weighing in at board meetings and online. She was quoted raising concerns about social-emotional learning in a USA Today Florida Network story about the national Moms for Liberty conference in Tampa over the summer.
She would face former state representative and senator John Legg, who runs Pasco County’s oldest charter school and who has received backing from much of the Republican political establishment.
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