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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Fact-checking Tuesday's Pinellas County School Board candidate debate



The August primary thinned a field of nine candidates for three races down to two candidates in two races. And on Wednesday night in St. Petersburg College's Seminole campus dignitorium, three of those four candidates had their first public chance to fine-tune their answers to repeated concerns.

District 5 (a Clearwater- and Largo-based district) candidates, incumbent Carol Cook and retired communication maintenance supervisor Eliseo Santana, and District 1 at-large candidate Joanne Lentino, a retired Gulfport Elementary teacher, discussed five struggling schools in South St. Petersburg, discipline and magnet schools. District 1 At-Large candidate Matt Stewart said he had a prior commitment and could not attend.

Here are a few of their responses:

Lentino: Lentino said she understood that a position for minority recruitment was eliminated and rolled into HR.

Cook shook her head at Lentino's statement, but the District 1 candidate is correct: the school district did have a position specifically designated to recruit minority educators. His name was James Feazell, and he retired in 2003. Despite being in violation of a settlement agreement for a desegregation lawsuit that requires the percentage of black educators to proportionally match the percentage of black students in the district, the school district currently does not have a specific minority recruiter. 

Speaking of lawsuits...Santana said the school district's discipline disparity between black children and non-black children "is why we’re in a lawsuit right now." Cook responded, “We are not in a lawsuit. We are in discussions.”

It may not be an informal discussion for long, as the district is in hot water with the plaintiffs of a federal desegregation lawsuit, who in March announced their intent to go back to court to seek intervention from a mediator. The plaintiffs of a separate state lawsuit who say the district isn't doing enough to educate black students have also said they plan to go back to court.

Cook: All Pinellas County students are being tested for gifted identification at an early age.

Universal screening for gifted identification for all second graders, including those in struggling schools, is a new district initiative -- one that was touched upon at the first "Bridging the Gap" community meeting held Tuesday evening. 

Here are the questions of the lightning round, which concluded the School Board debate:

Should all elementary schools have a minimum of 100 hours a week of recess?

Santana: yes; Cook: yes; Lentino: yes

Should schools adopt uniforms to reduce stigma and fashion fads?

Lentino: no; Cook - no; Santana - Choice should be left up to the parents

Do you agree that teachers should carry concealed weapons on campus?

Santana: no; Cook: no; Lentino: no

Should students be allowed to opt out of standardized testing?

Lentino: yes; Cook: yes; Santana: yes

Should the school district be required to teach cursive?

Santana: yes; Cook: yes; Lentino: yes

What grade (A to F) would you give Dr. Grego?

Lentino - Wouldn't say, wanted to know what the rubric was; Cook: A-; Santana: D

[Last modified: Wednesday, October 5, 2016 8:07pm]


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