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Pasco school employees union president draws election challenge

But the competition isn’t who many people expected it to be.
United School Employees of Pasco vice president Lisa Mazza, right, participates in Pasco County teacher negotiations while president Don Peace, in the back right, monitors the proceedings. They'll face off in the union's 2020 president election. [JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK  |  Times]
United School Employees of Pasco vice president Lisa Mazza, right, participates in Pasco County teacher negotiations while president Don Peace, in the back right, monitors the proceedings. They'll face off in the union's 2020 president election. [JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK | Times]
Published Jan. 17
Updated Jan. 17

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.


  1. State Rep. Anthony Sabatini fields questions on the House floor on Feb. 19, 2020, about his proposal to ask voters to limit school board member terms.
  2. Chicken and vegetable dumplings with soy sauce were offered to students to test during the 2nd Annual Student Food Connection taste-testing, Wednesday, February 19, 2020 at Pinellas Technical College. Twenty-eight new food items were tested and rated.  Some will be added to next year's school menus.
  3. Patrick Suiters, 10, left, and Gabriel Stanford, 9, both fourth-graders at San Jose Elementary School in Dunedin, fill out a survey after tasting falafel tots and nuggets during the 2nd Annual Student Food Connection taste test at Pinellas Technical College. About 120 students tasted and rated 28 new food items that could be added to school breakfast and lunch menus next year.
  4. Pasco School District headquarters in Land O' Lakes
  5. The Pinellas County school system is offering driver education camps to hundreds of students like this one over the summer. The program will be held over two sessions at nine high school campuses across the county.
  6. Incoming Superintendent Addison Davis (center) and School Board Chair Melissa Snively (right) sign Davis' contract with the Hillsborough County School District after it was unanimously approved by the school board on February 18, 2020.
  7. Incoming Hillsborough School Superintendent Addison Davis (center), School Board Chair Melissa Snively (right) and the other board members pose as Davis signs his contract with the district on Tuesday night. The board unanimously approved the contract beforehand.
  8. Jarvis Delon West was arrested on child neglect charges after he didn't report an employee at AMI Kids who slammed a boy to the ground, according to police.
  9. Associate professor of biology Caitlin Gille leads the Pasco-Hernando State College faculty union, which challenged the school's public comment rules.  (Photo Courtesy of Caitlin Gille)
  10. Prekindergarten students at James B. Sanderlin IB World School in St. Petersburg, show the peace sign during an assembly in 2012. New state data show children in prekindergarten are better prepared for kindergarten than those who don't attend.
  11. Leon County fifth-grader Ingrid Hanley asks the Senate Education Committee not to adopt legislation that would get tougher on D-rated schools, during a Feb. 17, 2020, session.
  12. Nadia King, 6, is smiles for a photo. The special-needs student was taken from school Feb. 4 and placed in a mental health facility under Florida's Baker Act, and now her mother and a team of attorneys are asking why.