By Jeffrey S. Solochek June 1, 2020 Tampa Bay Times

In Pasco superintendent race, opposition suggests three’s a crowd

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As qualifying for local elections draws closer, the two likely opponents to incumbent Pasco schools superintendent Kurt Browning know they face steep odds.

Residents seeking a change at the top see it, too. They’ve begun questioning whether having two challengers in the Republican primary further hurts the chances of either’s success. 

In a weekend Facebook conversation, some supporters of Hudson High principal David LaRoche not too subtly suggested that Bayonet Point Middle teacher Cynthia Thompson should consider stepping away.

“While I am sure you believe in your platform and that you would be the best person for the position of superintendent, I wonder if you have considered pulling out of the race and getting behind Dr. LaRoche,” Amy Davis wrote in the comments. “This could in turn strongly facilitate true change in the district by eliminating the splitting of votes come August.” 

Steven Franks suggested that Thompson should wait her turn. 

“By helping Dr. LaRoche she can learn and grow and be ready when he retires,” Franks wrote in the comments. “She has some good ideas that I think can be built upon in the future.” 

LaRoche didn’t go as far in his participation. But he did suggest that he and Thompson share many of the same views, adding that change must come now and he’s well situated to step into the role.

Thompson replied that she was disappointed that it took a Facebook chat to discern their views, noting that she pre-filed to seek the seat before either LaRoche or Browning. 

“I am also saddened that you didn’t reach out to find out my views and ideas,” she wrote to LaRoche, with whom she took issue over online comments about LGBTQ student rights.

In an interview later, Thompson suggested that LaRoche’s support of a group that has pushed to not let students use the restroom or locker room with which they identify catered too much to religion. She said the equality of student rights would be a major plank of her campaign. 

Since the online conversation, Thompson said she also received emails from LaRoche backers asking why she was planning to run. She said she had no intention of caving in.

“He knew what he was getting into. He knew I was there,” Thompson said, adding that she would not pressure LaRoche leave the field. “I’m here for the long haul. I know I can make a difference.”

LaRoche said he never had spoken with Thompson before that Facebook interaction, and he was trying only to inquire about her position on issues. 

“I think we’re after it for the same exact reason,” he said of the superintendent’s job. “I can appreciate what she’s doing and think it’s fantastic. We both have decided to take a huge chance.” 

He acknowledged that Thompson did not agree with his stance on transgender students in schools, which had been a subject of controversy until the COVID-19 pandemic. He figured they might agree on the topic, but used different language to discuss the topic.

“It’s sad that we’re making this a student rights issue. I don’t see it as a student rights issue,” said LaRoche, who noted that his stepdaughter is a transgender teen. “I see it as a safety issue.” 

He said he also is ready to file when the qualifying period begins on June 8. 

A potential third challenger, meanwhile, said he will not join the fray. Former state senator John Legg, who runs the Dayspring Academy charter school, said he will continue to focus on expanding his school rather than seek election.

If the field remains as it currently looks, the three Republicans would face off in the August primary. Without any general opposition, the primary would be open to all voters.