On the campaign trail: Big Charter likes Susan Valdes
Susan Valdes is known for winning Hillsborough County School Board elections on a shoe string.
This year she doesn't have to.
Valdes, now running for re-election in west Hillsborough's District 1, received $3,000 last month from Charter Schools USA, its majority owner -- Jonathan Hage -- and its Red Apple development company.
That's more than a third of the $8,770 Valdes has raised so far.
Valdes recently concluded a year of service as chairwoman, a year that saw radical changes in the district. Superintendent MaryEllen Elia -- who took a hard line on charters -- was fired. Jeff Eakins -- who is warmer to the privately managed, tax-funded schools -- took Elia's place.
Also under Valdes' leadership, the district and board entered into multiple consulting arrangements with Rod Jurado, the local chairman for Hillsborough's three Charter Schools USA schools. Jurado's consulting group helped the school board formulate its strategic plan and designed the instrument it will use to evaluate Eakins, among other tasks. The same school board greenlighted four new Charter Schools USA schools in October. And Jurado hopes to open even more.
Valdes said she considered the three $1,000 checks "a recognition of leadership" for which she is flattered. She said she has shown a record of fairness. "I have voted for charter schools, I have voted against charter schools and I have expressed specific concerns about charter schools," she said.
She pointed out that, in today's political climate, their growth is inevitable. "Just think of where the state is headed," she said. "It's a whole different ballgame right now. Parents want choices. And a little competition is okay, as well, for the school district."
Charter Schools USA, based in Fort Lauderdale, is not alone in contributing to local school board races. Cindy Stuart, who is running for re-election in north Hillsborough's District 3, got two checks totalling $500 from Smart Care Group, a charter organization in Miami. But that amount is just a small percentage of Stuart's fundraising, which is now more than $9,000.
Stuart faces a challenge this year from Alicia Toler, a homemaker in Seffner. Valdes is defending her seat against Bill Person, a former principal and school district administrator who is coming out of retirement to run against her.