Pasco school board election ballot fills

Published January 11 2018

One Pasco County School Board incumbent has decided not to pursue another term, while two others have announced their 2018 reelection bids.

Steve Luikart, often a dissenting voice on some of the board’s more contentious issues, said Wednesday he will not seek a third term representing District 5 serving northwest Pasco.

Luikart, a retired assistant principal, said after eight years on the board and 32 year inside the schools, the time had come to spend more time traveling and fishing with his family.

He viewed his tenure as positive, saying he brought a perspective to district issues that other members did not share. He acknowledged having not accomplished all of his goals, though, most particularly his inability to get the district to fix problems at Ridgewood High rather than close and repurpose the struggling school.

Now, Luikart said, someone else can bring a fresh perspective to bear.

"You asked me a while back if I believe in term limits, and I told you ‘yes,’" he said, adding if he wants to participate in the future, "I still get three minutes and a yellow (speaker sign up) card if I go to a board meeting."

Already, two people have filed paperwork to run for the seat. They are law student Kassie Hutchinson, a former Pinellas County teacher, and Mike Aday, a Pasco middle school teacher.

Luikart said a couple of other people contacted him about their interest, but he would not reveal their names.

Fellow incumbents Allen Altman and Cynthia Armstrong, meanwhile, aim to continue on the board.

Altman, the board’s longest tenured member, filed his paperwork three days into the new year to pursue a fourth term representing east Pasco’s District 1.

First elected in 2006, Altman said he also wants to continue the board’s efforts to expand school choices for students while maintaining the district’s strong financial position.

Altman has been a vocal proponent for maintaining at least a 5 percent budget reserve fund, even when it meant cutting programs or limiting employee salaries. The district has kept solid bond ratings as a result, even as surrounding school systems have struggled.

"I’m really more excited about the future and some of the ideas that are being explored, and some of the out-of-the-box things we’re looking at," Altman said, adding that an east-side technical school remains at the top of his list.

He acknowledged a push in some corners of the state to limit school board members to two terms.

But understanding education funding can take years, he observed. Plus, he added, over his 12 years in office he has made connections with other leaders around Florida who can help accomplish the district’s goals, and offer new ideas.

"Experience is extremely important, and it is knowledge that you cannot buy," Altman said.

Retiree Brian Staver also has filed to run for the District 1 seat.

Armstrong made her plans known to seek a third term in the District 3 seat, representing south-central Pasco, back in July. She faces one challenger, political newcomer Meghan Hamer.

A real estate agent, Armstrong said she is focused on the district’s population growth and wants to make sure the school system is prepared to cope with the student influx.

Part of that effort means providing plenty of academic options for families, she said: "I believe in public education, and I want to do everything I can to make sure Pasco County public schools are the best they can be."

Qualifying for the Aug. 28 election takes place in June.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at (813) 909-4614 or Follow @jeffsolochek.