Late last year, Lynne Webb announced that after 15 years as president of the United School Employees of Pasco, the union that represents both the instructional and noninstructional rank and file of the Pasco County School District, she would not seek re-election to another term. As teachers union head tenures go, 15 years isn’t all that much. The late Jade Moore, for example, spent 34 years at the helm of the teachers union in Pinellas County. Webb, however, said a decade and a half of leading USEP was enough and it was time for new leadership.
Last week, USEP members elected the union’s vice president, Kenny Blankenship, to succeed Webb. Blankenship defeated Pat Connolly, the district’s Teacher of the Year, by roughly 55 percent to 45 percent. Blankenship has been a vocal advocate for the union. He’s perhaps best known for his vow not to cut his hair until USEP members got a raise. He kept that pledge for five years, until last year, when teachers did finally get a raise.
Unfortunately for USEP members and their leaders, many of the forces that have been buffeting the Pasco School District — money woes resulting from the 2008 Florida real estate and housing collapse and the nation’s anemic recovery from the 2009 recession and mandates from Washington, D.C., and Tallahassee — are beyond the control of local school leaders. In addition, Florida law bars strikes by public employees, so USEP lacks that bit of traditional union muscle.
With the Pasco County housing market stirring back to life, perhaps Blankenship and other USEP leader will have one fewer cause for concern.