District 1, which covers West Tampa, Town ‘N Country and the Northwest suburbs, will be represented either by an executive for the construction industry or a former School District official who entered the political arena because of a grievance.
This much is clear: The two are raising and spending a lot of money.
Steve Cona, 44, is president and CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors Florida Gulf Coast Chapter. He also serves as an appointee of Gov. Rick Scott on the board of trustees for Hillsborough Community College.
With a child at Sickles High School — where the air conditioning has been especially unreliable this year — Cona says he wants to bring a business perspective to the district’s budgeting and day-to-day management. He is supported by proponents of privately managed charter schools and he wants to cut down on duplication of programs outside the school system – adult vocational training, for example, which already is offered at institutions such as HCC.
Susan Valdes, a Democrat who is leaving the seat two years early to join the State House, has endorsed the Republican Cona.
But that isn’t surprising, given the origins of this contest.
Cona is running against William Person, 67 and the husband of teacher Laurie Rodriguez. Person also is a retired principal and administrator who led the district’s efforts to create a choice system after the end of court-ordered desegregation.
Person began asking questions around 2015, when Rodriguez and several fellow teachers were about to lose their positions at Erwin Technical College because of a reorganization. One question led to another, many involving Valdes and the administration of Superintendent Jeff Eakins.
The margin in 2016 was razor-thin, with Valdes winning by just 277 votes. Rodriguez and Person also filed multiple state ethics complaints against Valdes and the administration.
In his current campaign, Person has taken a strong stand against charter schools. As labor unions generally are anti-charter, Person is getting financial backing from numerous labor organizations. These include the teachers union, whose leaders are campaigning for Person simultaneously with their efforts to support Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum.
The at-large District 6 race pits a longtime school district employee, now retired, against a social worker who is brand-new to most of the day-to-day issues affecting the large school system.
Henry “Shake” Washington, 69, spent four decades in the system, rising to the rank of high school principal and beyond, and ultimately retiring as area director of a group of mostly urban schools. His son, also Henry Washington, is an assistant principal at Lennard High School.
Karen Perez, 54, is a Veterans Administration social worker who entered the race shortly before the registration deadline, saying she was moved by children she had met in her private practice to keep children engaged in school and out of the court system.
Much of Washington’s support comes from friends and former employees who have worked with him in the schools. Perez is being helped in the community and on social media by April Griffin, the long-time board member who is leaving the District 6 seat.