PASCO COUNTY SCHOOLS: THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING LOBBYIST

A true tale of intrigue awaits all who might wonder:

Where in the World is Spencer Pylant?

The story goes like this:

Back in August of 2014, Bubba decided that the district’s lobbyist, Eric Prutsman, just wasn’t getting things done for Pasco County Schools, so he decided to terminate the district’s contract with Prutsman and get a lobbyist who would be more attentive to the needs of Browning & Co.

Prutsman is the lobbyist for some 19 organizations. It’s an interesting array of businesses and industry groups, including the Consortium of Florida Education Foundations, Family First, Florida Association for Behavior Analysis, and Mortgage Bankers Association of Florida. After a brief inspection of the companies and associations that Prutsman represents in Tallahassee, it becomes clear that Pasco County Schools does not belong on the same list. It’s not hard to imagine Pasco being relegated to an inferior spot on the cluttered agenda of a lobbyist representing such a large number of dissimilar organizations.

I can’t say I blame Bubba for ending Pasco’s relationship with Prutsman. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure I understand why a school district even needs a lobbyist. I mean, the legislative impact of one school district on state policy has to be very minimal, and any timely information exacted from an insider concerning the machinations of the legislature with respect to the district’s interests can probably be had for far less, like paying attention to the press releases of organizations like the FEA, FADSS, FSBA, or in Bubba’s case, just talking (and listening) to USEP president Kenny Blankenship. Blankenship stays on top of what’s going on in Tallahassee, and he’s probably very eager to enlighten Bubba on any number of education issues. If only Browning would close his mouth and open his ears…

What a Tiny Little World

Well, ol’ Bubba just doesn’t see things that way at all. After dropping Prutsman’s lobbying firm based on the latter’s alleged inadequate performance, ol’ Bubba decided to go out and hire his own lobbyist. Where did he look? Right over at good ol’ John Legg’s office. As anyone in the know regarding public education in Florida is aware, Legg is pretty much Florida Public Education Enemy Numero Uno.

Browning actually created a position in order to hire the new guy. According to trusty Tampa Bay Times Gradebook reporter Jeff Solochek, the position was quite fancily fashioned, Deputy Director of Communications and Government Affairs. Wow. At one point or another Bubba must have had an epiphany and decided to downgrade the title to mere Communications & Government Relations Liaison. I guess the position sounds straightforward enough. Of course, the devil is in the details. The baby crony is none other than the former legislative assistant to Senator John Legg. My goodness.

It’s worth mentioning that Browning created another position, District Support Liaison, or something similarly-worded, for his own wife (a school nurse), not too long after becoming superintendent. Her duties were to oversee “orientation and mentoring of new school nurses.” I can’t help but wonder who did that for all those years before Bubba became the superintendent.

It never hurts to wonder.

Spencer Pylant was born on 16 October 1988. He just had his 27th birthday. He went to the University of Florida, earning a BA in Political Science in 2011 and an MBA in 2012.

He punched his ticket with a nice helping of esteemed memberships in prestigious UF organizations: Florida Blue Key, Kappa Phi Epsilon, UF Student Senate, Florida Blue Key Speakers Bureau, College Republicans, Gator Growl, Baptist Collegiate Ministries, and UF Campus Crusade for Christ.

On his LinkedIn page, Spencer sums himself up as an “Enterprising young Gator serving as the Communications & Government Relations Liaison for Pasco County Schools.”

Before working as Legg’s legislative assistant, our crony-in-training was the campaign manager for Art Otero’s 2012 Florida House election campaign. Otero Lost. Before that, he interned for former State Senator Lee Constantine back in 2009. Constantine was a staunch supporter of Florida Senate SB 6, a teacher-hating, public education-destroying bill that was vetoed by then-Governor Charlie Crist. Very similar legislation was eventually signed by ol’ Rickster the Trickster.

A Big Ol’ Job

Bubba’s legislative leading lad has quite a catalog of supposed responsibilities that have yet to be witnessed by the public. As he puts it himself, on his very impressive LinkedIn page:

  • Legislative liaison for Pasco County Schools
  • Advise the superintendent, school board, and members of the superintendent’s staff on department activities and apprise each stakeholder of areas where efforts are needed to help strengthen and improve the district
  • Collaborate with the Communications and Government Relations Department to keep the public and district employees informed of government relations news
  • Publish written newsletters, press releases, memoranda, and articles related to Communications and Government Relations Department, District School Board of Pasco County, all cost centers, students, and staff
  • Provide content for the District’s Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and other social media sites related to legislative issues, updates, and other District activities; and maintaining individual social media accounts to share information relevant to the District’s stakeholders
  • Foster business partnerships and develop relationships between the District and other stakeholders

That’s a big job for a brand new good ol’ boy. The official job description is even more awe-inspiring. The position reportedly pays somewhere in the $60K range. It takes a Pasco County classroom teacher almost 30 years to get there.

Are we ticked off yet?

At any rate, where in the world is this guy? He seems to be all but absolutely invisible. In fact, I had no idea he actually existed until a couple of people asked me if I knew who he was and what he did for the district, and whether or not what he actually did had anything to do with what his job description says he does.

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The Big Stonewall

Several very reliable sources tell me that they have emailed the district office asking for information about Pylant’s whereabouts and what his duties are, but have received nothing but emails promising an answer that never arrives.

A friend of mine, also a Pasco County Schools parent, forwarded me a response he received to an email he sent to Linda Cobbe about Mr. Pylant. Cobbe is the Director of the Communications and Government Relations Department. Pylant supposedly reports to her. In his email (which he also forwarded) he asked some pretty specific questions regarding what Mr. Pylant is supposed to be doing for all that money, and he asked very politely for some detailed answers. Cobbe quite curtly replied, “I can assure you that he does everything on the job description.” Great. We’ll just take your word for it, since that’s obviously what you want us to do. We’ll stop inquiring right now, since it’s also pretty obvious that we’re getting on your nerves.

Funny thing. After I saw that email, I decided it was time to write this post. Thanks, Mrs. Cobbe.

Something Rotten in the State of Denmark?

It’s hard enough to get over the fact that Bubba had the sheer gall to hire Johnny Legg’s 26-year-old legislative assistant for a high level job in the school district, given the fact that Legg is an administrator for a charter school corporation that operates in that very same district, and, as Chairman of the Florida Senate’s K-12 Education Committee, holds immense power over policymaking initiatives that directly affect that very same district.

It’s hard enough to get over the fact that Bubba actually created a position in order to hire Pylant. That fact begs other serious questions that need to be answered. Was the job properly advertised? If it was, was the advertisement open long enough for other candidates to apply? Or, was it an inside job with a predetermined outcome from the get-go? Answers to these very appropriate questions would be greatly appreciated by many.

Speaking of good questions, how come ol’ Solochek over at the Gradebook never seems to come up with any? He’s the one who did the brief piece that introduced us loyal Gradebook readers to this new connection between Legg and Browning in the first place. That was back in August of 2014. I’d like to think that a good journalist keeps relevant files and follows up on obvious leads. What is it, exactly, that Solochek does? Does he break bread with Bubba? Now that’s a good question.

What’s hardest of all to come to terms with is the fact that, despite his lofty position, Pylant doesn’t seem to exist except on payroll day, when taxpayer money is transferred from the district’s bank account to his, wherever he might be.

A Public in the Dark

During the Legislature’s regular and special sessions, does Pylant actually reside in Tallahassee? If he does, who supervises him? Does he supervise himself? What are his priorities? If he advocates for the legislative interests of the District School Board of Pasco County, what exactly does he advocate for? Indeed, what exactly are the district’s legislative priorities? Considering the fact that Browning hired Senator John Legg’s legislative assistant, one can reasonably conclude that he is rather knowledgeable of Legg’s priorities in Tallahassee.

That’s a sticking point.

With all we know about John Legg’s pilotage of pernicious policy through both the House and Senate during his tyrannical tenure in our licentious legislature, it just doesn’t make any sense that Bubba would even consider hiring Legg’s legislative lackey to be his “Communications and Government Relations Liaison.” It all sounds like a big giant load of crap to me, so yes, something indeed smells very fishy in Pasco County.

Very.

It’s not going too far to question whether or not a quid pro quo sort of arrangement is in play here. The very strange nature of the whole situation makes it very plausible.

We, the people of Pasco County, want answers. We want the district office of Pasco County Schools to demonstrate some true Government in the Sunshine. We want to know that our tax dollars are being used to benefit our schools, and not simply to enhance the careers of cronies-in-the-making.

We are tired of horse manure excuses that insult our intelligence. We are tired of a district superintendent who tells us one thing and does another. We are even more tired of political campaign speeches being passed off as “district updates.” We are sick of hearing Browning declare that he holds himself accountable. He clearly doesn’t, and he obviously doesn’t want us to either.

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Oh, But We Shall.

We need to step up our scrutiny of Pasco’s incognito public education destroyer. We need to get nosy and noisy. Really nosy and really noisy. Browning’s Bandits are simply getting away with too much because Browning has told them they can.

As a first step, we need to write the Superintendent and School Board members. Here are the email addresses of Browning and the board as well as a map of the county that shows each member’s district. The School Board members’ initials and district numbers appear in hyphenated alphanumeric form. Please get involved. It feels great. I promise.

  • Kurt Browning: ksbsos@pasco.k12.fl.us (The Bubba)
  • Alan Altman: alaltman@pasco.k12.fl.us (District 1)
  • Joanne Hurley: jhurley@pasco.k12.fl.us (District 2)
  • Cynthia Armstrong: carmstro@pasco.k12.fl.us (District 3)
  • Alison Crumbley: acrumble@pasco.k12.fl.us (District 4)
  • Steve Luikart: jluikart@pasco.k12.fl.us (District 5)

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