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Pasco Tribune

Pasco superintendent: No intention of canceling Romney rally

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 07:24 PM
LAND O' LAKES -

Critics who blasted the Pasco County School District's decision to allow a Mitt Romney campaign rally at Land O' Lakes High failed to change any minds at district headquarters.

The district has no intention of canceling the event, which is scheduled at 7 p.m. Saturday in the school's football stadium.

"We are still going to go through with it," Superintendent Heather Fiorentino said Friday.

Fiorentino, a Republican who plans to attend the rally, said the complaints are a reflection of a heated political season and tight presidential race.

The school district, she said, simply finds itself in the middle.

She also noted that Democrats have been welcome in Pasco schools in the past, although their appearances weren't for campaign rallies.

Last year, Vice President Joe Biden visited Oakstead Elementary in Land O' Lakes, where he promoted a jobs bill for teachers. A few months later, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson made a brief stop at Lacoochee Elementary when he visited northeast Pasco.

The initial complaint about the Romney rally came from United School Employees of Pasco, which questioned whether the rally violated school board policy about allowing political campaigning on school property.

Board member Steve Luikart raised similar concerns, as did an official with the Florida Democratic Party. Former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink also chimed in, saying Thursday that the Pasco school district displayed a double standard by renting the stadium to Romney.

In 2010, Sink wanted to tape a campaign commercial on a weekend at a Pasco school, but the school board denied her request. Fiorentino said at the time that she was "not in favor of using our schools for political backdrops."

Fiorentino said Friday that taping a commercial and holding a public rally are not the same thing. She also said there was precedent for denying the commercial request because in 2004 Fiorentino's opponent in the superintendent race wanted to tape a commercial at a school, but the school board decided not to allow it.

Fiorentino sounded mostly amused by Sink's complaint that she was turned down because the Pasco school district is run by a Republican-controlled school board and a Republican superintendent.

"I've known Alex for years," Fiorentino said. "When we saw each other at the Biden thing she wasn't holding any grudges then. We have procedures and policies and she should not be making this political."

Fiorentino said the district routinely rents out facilities. She sees the Romney event as an opportunity for Pasco residents to see and possibly meet a man who could be the next president. The Romney campaign is paying $2,000 to the district to rent the stadium.

"We felt the same way when Biden came," Fiorentino said. "I bet you those kids (at Oakstead Elementary) will remember that the rest of their lives."

The school district has become something of a lightning rod for complaints about presidential politics this year. Republicans complained vociferously when a supporter of President Barack Obama gave a partisan speech to Gulf High students in September.

A write-the-president activity at an after-school program made Fox News when a father complained he didn't want his 9-year-old daughter penning a missive to Obama.

Despite the latest complaints, school board Chairwoman Joanne Hurley said she also sees no need to cancel the rally, though she was double-checking a few last-minute concerns.

"I want to make sure we follow board policies," she said.


rblair@tampatrib.com (813) 371-1853 Twitter: @rblairTrib

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