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Pasco school employees union president draws election challenge

But the competition isn’t who many people expected it to be.

When Don Peace ran for the United School Employees of Pasco presidency in 2017, he targeted the contentious relationship between the incumbent Kenny Blankenship and superintendent Kurt Browning and said the union needed to do better.

The campaign between the two was often pointed, and the margin of victory narrow among the small number of members who decided to vote.

Blankenship remained active in union life, increasing his profile in recent months to the point that many in the district expected him to try to recapture his old position. In early December, he appeared poised to mount a challenge to Peace.

But when the USEP’s candidate filing period ended Thursday evening, Blankenship had not entered the race. The Land O’Lakes High social studies teacher had decided to run for the group’s secretary/treasurer post against two-term incumbent Cheryl Vinson, an Anclote High language arts teacher.

That didn’t leave Peace, a Gulf Middle physical education teacher of 30-plus years before taking the presidency, alone on the ballot, though. Instead, he drew a challenge from another longtime district teacher and union stalwart, Wesley Chapel Elementary third-grade teacher Lisa Mazza.

Mazza is the USEP’s outgoing vice president for instructional staff, and not always allied with Peace’s approach. She could not be reached for comment, as she was in classes with students.

Peace, on leave from his classroom job, said he had not talked with Mazza about her decision. He said he would focus on the accomplishments he believed the USEP has made under his watch, with a goal of continuing to work collaboratively with the district for the good of staff and students.

“Our members are their employees, so it behooves both of us to work together,” Peace said.

During his term, the USEP went to impasse over contract negotiation in 2019, ultimately reaching an accord about four months later. The following year, the sides were able to conclude contract talks more amicably before winter break.

Two USEP leadership posts drew only one candidate. Land O’Lakes High teacher Christine Goddard is on track to become vice president-instructional, and veteran bus driver Maryann Brini will become vice president-school related personnel.

For the contested seats, official campaigning begins Feb. 5, and online voting starts April 16. The county Supervisor of Elections will monitor the election, and have the results on April 30.