Alice Delgardo is a Democrat with a history of political involvement - just not in Florida.
The 52-year-old Massachusetts native joined the Pasco County school superintendent race just after she moved to Florida. It was, she thought, the right thing to do in the face of a GOP-orchestrated move that changed the dynamics of the superintendent's election.
"I bring choice," Delgardo said.
State Rep. Heather Fiorentino, R-New Port Richey, was the front-runner in a primary election that pitted her against district finance chief Chuck Rushe. Though both Rushe and Fiorentino are Republicans, Rushe was perceived as a Democratic vote-getter because his base of support included school leaders across both parties.
Then, James Griffin, the Republican son of a local GOP Executive Committee member, filed to run as a write-in challenger. The move closed the Rushe-Fiorentino primary election to all but Republicans.
And it left Democratic leaders indignant that they would be prohibited from voting in an election with such wide-ranging ramifications: The superintendent oversees more than 7,000 employees, 59 schools and 57,000 students.
Enter "Delgardo for Superintendent." A licensed practical nurse with a master's degree in education, Delgardo has only voluntary school experience on her resume, but she spent years working in and around government in her home state of Massachusetts. She dismisses suggestions that her background might lend itself more to the School Board, City Council or another political office.
"I just feel as though there was a call to answer," Delgardo said of the superintendent's race. "And I am offering choice."
Fiorentino's experience in public office spans 12 years in the Legislature and five years on the New Port Richey City Council. A former Pasco County Teacher of the Year, the 46-year-old has worked part time on special assignments at school district offices since being elected to the House of Representatives.
"I have been in the community for 30 years," Fiorentino said when asked to differentiate herself from Delgardo. "I have roots in the community ... I understand where their (the schools) strengths are and where their weaknesses are."
Fiorentino has said she would like to look at restructuring oversight of the district's 59 schools. She favors increasing vocational education programs for students. She has not taken a firm position on whether the superintendent should continue to be elected or become appointed.
Delgardo said she is not advocating any significant changes in the way the school district is operated. She'd like to increase teacher salaries and do a better job of paying for teacher supplies. She likes that the superintendent is elected.
HEATHER FIORENTINO, 46, was first elected to the state Legislature in 1998 and won twice as an incumbent. She lost her first bid to become a New Port Richey City Council member in 1992 but went on a year later to win the first of three consecutive council terms. This is her first bid for superintendent. She was born in Columbia, S.C., and moved to Pasco County from Maryland in 1976. She attended Pasco-Hernando Community College from 1976-1978 and received her bachelor's degree in education from the University of South Florida in 1984. Fiorentino was hired to teach in Pasco County schools in 1984 and has been a teacher with the district for 20 years. She lives in New Port Richey with her husband and daughter. She has a grown stepson. ASSETS: Home, investments, savings and life insurance. LIABILITIES: Loans. SOURCE OF INCOME: Salary from Pasco County School District.
ALICE DELGARDO, 52, first sought public office in 1998, when she tried unsuccessfully to unseat a Massachusetts state senator. She recently left her nursing position at Arden Courts HCR Manor Care, where she worked for a year, to campaign. From 1999 to 2002, she directed a welfare-to-work initiative at Partners HealthCare System in Boston. She spent two years overseeing constituent services for Massachusetts state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, a Democrat. From 1979 to 1984, she worked as a licensed practical nurse at Brigham and Women's Hospital. She completed a nursing program at Boston City Hospital in 1979 and obtained a master's degree in education from Cambridge College in Massachusetts, a school targeting nontraditional students, 10 years later. She lives with her husband in Holiday. They have three grown children. ASSETS: Land, retirement. LIABILITIES: Loans, mortgage. SOURCE OF INCOME: None.
THE JOBPasco County's school superintendent serves a four-year term and oversees 7,500 employees, 57,000 students, 59 schools and a $664-million annual budget. The superintendent makes recommendations about staffing, courses, taxes and other policies to be acted on by the School Board. The superintendent earns $145,869 a year and qualifies for an additional $7,500 supplement from the state.