Parents, residents take on Pasco School Board over pro-Obama volunteers being allowed into schools

PASCO COUNTY, Fla - Members of the Pasco County School Board met face-to-face Tuesday night with parents and taxpayers who are upset the district allowed volunteers from Organizing for America, a democratic group supporting President Obama's reelection, in to a handful of schools to register voters last month.

Some Pasco Republicans are alleging political collusion and deceit.

Laura Akins came to the meeting because she has two grandchildren attending district schools.

"What if I was with the Nazi party and wanted to come in and give a speech about racism?" asked Akins.

Republican leaders in Pasco County have also filed a complaint with the State Attorney's office.

State Committeeman Bill Bunting says he believes Organizing for America members misrepresented themselves last month, leading school principals to think they were from the Supervisor of Elections office.

"We found out now that there are six schools involved, not one," Bunting told the board.  "If there are six schools, then there are six principals."

Bunting is calling for all of the principals to be deposed because they did not properly vet these volunteers or have sign in sheets.

"I am outraged," Bunting added.

One of the principals in question did respond, saying, 'She didn't think this is that big of deal' and would welcome being deposed.

Board members are suggesting this is a misunderstanding more than misrepresentation

Kevin Shipley, director of the department of employee relations for the school board, delivered a report to board members about these incidents after he was asked to investigate the possible violations of school board policies.

Shipley said he determined seven schools in the district were contacted by someone other than the Supervisor of Elections Office who indicated an interest in speaking to and registering students to vote.

School leaders permitted individuals or organizations to operate a non-partisan voter registration table during student registration, open house and student lunch periods', Shipley reported.

It was determined that at Gulf High School someone other than the Supervisor of Elections Office delivered a presentation to six periods of 12th grade American Government students. Shipley said in all seven cases, the person who contacted the school regarding giving a presentation and registering students to vote was from Organizing for America.

"There was no indication that they misrepresented who they were or tried to indicate that they were from the elections office," said Shipley.

Shipley's findings also report the pro-Obama volunteers were allowed into schools because school leaders 'believed that approval from the state to conduct voter registration activities equated to an affiliation with with Supervisor of Elections Office.'

Under school board policy, the Supervisor of Elections is allowed to come in and help students register to vote.

"There definitely needs to be some clarity to the staff when it comes to board policy, also on the procedures,"  said Heather Fiorentino, Superintendent of Schools for Pasco County.

Bunting said this is less about board policies and more about what happened in Pasco impacting what happens at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Bunting said the implications for what occurred could shift the election result.  The 2000 Presidential Election was decided by less than 600 votes in Florida, causing concern for Republicans in Pasco County.

"We could lose it if they are in all the schools throughout the State of Florida," explained Bunting.

The Obama campaign says it was a simple misunderstanding that lead to one of their volunteers speaking to students. That volunteer is no longer with Organizing for America.

Bunting was originally invited to Gulf High to give the Republican view, but school districts ultimately canceled his appearance. 

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