School superintendent, teachers' union chief take sides in election


Published: Friday, September 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 31, 2006 at 10:59 p.m.
The candidates aren't the only ones facing off in this year's Alachua County School Board elections.
Schools Superintendent Dan Boyd and Alachua County Education Association President Gunnar Paulson have each come out questioning the other's political actions relating to the races. Paulson has spoken out against incumbents Ginger Childs and Tina Pinkoson and criticized them in a bargaining update distributed to employees. Meanwhile, Boyd donated $100 to each of the incumbents' campaigns and he appears in a photo in Childs' campaign literature.
The latest fallout came after Paulson distributed a two-page bargaining update to union members. The message called the School Board's initial offer "insultingly low" and said, "We have seen this before when Ms. Pinkoson and Ms. Childs were first on the board." The update went on to list specific examples from the district's 2003-04 bargaining session, accusing the incumbents of overpaying attorneys and administrators and underpaying teachers.
While the message didn't specifically mention political campaigns, Boyd said School Board Chairman Wes Eubank approached him with concerns about its political undertones. Boyd agreed that it appeared to be politically motivated since the message made no mention of the other three board members in office during the 2003-04 session.
Boyd set up a meeting with Paulson to get an explanation, as he says School Board policy calls for him to do. The superintendent said he was only gathering information at that point and still hasn't drawn a conclusion as to whether Paulson was breaking the rules that bar using district facilities and district time to push a political agenda.
But Paulson said he felt Boyd was using the meeting to intimidate him. In a two-page letter to Boyd, which was also sent to local news media, Paulson wrote, "You said that you and/or the board were not sure if there would be further action. I interpreted this as a not so veiled threat to me and to ACEA. It appears to me your intentions were more politically motivated."
He denied any political undertones in the message and said it's his responsibility to inform ACEA members of past and current bargaining issues.
"Our members are entitled to this information," he wrote. "There are lessons to be learned from the past. It would be foolish to ignore issues that affected the outcomes of prior bargains."
Boyd said Paulson's decision to e-mail the letter to the news media at the same time it was sent to him shows where Paulson's intentions really lie.
"With the School Board elections coming up on Tuesday, it's quite evident why it was done this way," he said.
In the letter, Paulson said Boyd wasn't just intimidating him, but that all ACEA members have been told not to wear campaign buttons and T-shirts and not to discuss campaigns even during "non-work, non-student contact time."
Boyd said the district has always had a rule against promoting political campaigns on school time, but that district employees have the right to do what they want outside of work.
As for questions about his own political actions, Boyd said, "All I did was put $100 in Wes, Tina and Ginger's campaigns. I have not gone out and endorsed them or campaigned for them or written letters to The Gainesville Sun about them."
As for his photo in Childs' campaign literature, which was taken during an event at Gainesville's Reichert House, he said, "I don't have any idea how Ginger Childs is running her campaign. The picture was taken at the Reichert House. How she used it, I have no idea."
The issue surfaced in April, after Boyd made the contributions. Most nonelected officials in government and education said they don't become involved in politics, but some school superintendents in Florida do support school board members.
The School Board elections will be decided on Tuesday, when the nonpartisan candidates face off in the primary elections.
Pinkoson is running against Clint Robinson in District 1, which is the greater Alachua County area north of Gainesville. Childs is running against Deb Cupples in District 5, which is southwest Gainesville.
Though the candidates represent specific parts of the county, all Alachua County voters can weigh in on the School Board elections.
Tiffany Pakkala can be reached at 338-3110 or at Pakkalt@gvillesun.com.

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