The race to replace retiring Pasco County school superintendent Kurt Browning grew more crowded on Tuesday as longtime principal Chris Dunning announced his bid for the post.
Dunning, 50, is principal of Krinn Technical High School, which he helped open in 2018 to replace Ridgewood High School. He has been a Pasco teacher and administrator for 29 years.
He joins former state lawmaker John Legg and parent activist Michelle Mandarin in the field to lead the county’s largest employer. Unlike Legg and Mandarin, who filed as Republican candidates, Dunning said he will run without party affiliation.
“I don’t feel like it should be a partisan position,” he said. “It’s about educating kids. It shouldn’t be about politics.”
Pasco County is the largest school district in the nation to elect its superintendent. Dunning acknowledged that he’d rather be applying for the job than running for office.
But he noted that Pasco voters have rejected the idea of transitioning to an appointed superintendent in the past. And he said he believes he has something of value to offer in taking the district to the next level of excellence.
“If I focus on what’s best for kids and what’s best for our system, that will come through,” Dunning said.
Without a large campaign fund or endorsements from the county’s political elite, which Legg boasts since launching his campaign, Dunning said he wanted to get an early start on the election, which is nearly two years off. As a no-party candidate, he will skip the primary and go directly to the November general ballot.
“Obviously, it’s a big county,” he noted. “I will have to get my voice and myself out to the east side more.”
Dunning lives in Trinity and has led schools in western Pasco, including Calusa Elementary, as well as Paul R. Smith and Seven Springs middle schools. He also worked in the district office as an employee relations supervisor and chief negotiator.
Dunning said those experiences have prepared him to run a school district. He also recently applied to lead Pinellas County schools but did not make the finalist cut.
If elected, he said he would want to create new district programs to help families prepare their children for reading before they enter kindergarten. He said he would push for improved communication with parents and increased transportation safety, among other initiatives.
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The largest challenge for the district, he added, would be to retain high-quality staff and fill vacant positions. Dunning said he also would work to follow Florida’s education laws, which he said had both pros and cons.
“It’s a matter of working through them so it is in the best interest of students,” Dunning said.
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