Pinellas County School Board election races see last-minute shake-ups
The qualifying period for candidates to enter the 2016 election for the Pinellas County School Board ended at noon today, leaving nine candidates in the race with three withdrawing and one late addition.
The already competitive District 1 at-large seat has lost one candidate (Alex C. Powers, an online social studies teacher and football coach at Pinellas Park High) but gained another: Robert J. Beal, a 45-year-old St. Petersburg College student, Marine and father advocating for his daughter with special needs, officially qualified for the race on Wednesday.
Beal says his 14-year-old daughter, Lauren, struggles with dyslexia and bipolar disorder and reads at a third-grade level. He enrolled her in two public elementary schools where he says she was passed through several grades without anyone monitoring her progress. Frustrated, he put his daughter in a private school that he says did not have the resources to address her needs.
"Basically the frustrations of the school system have just wanted me to get engaged and advocate for people like my daughter that have (exceptional student education), special needs, children that do not fit in the normal box," Beal said, calling his daughter a "failure of public and private school system."
Beal filed his candidacy paperwork on his way to an American Sign Language class at SPC, where he is a few credits away from earning his associate's degree. He plans to either enroll in SPC's nursing program or go to the University of South Florida for a bachelor's degree and work toward a career in healthcare administration. If he is elected, Beal said he would only take one class a semester.
Coincidentally, Beal is vying for the seat that special education champion Janet R. Clark is leaving. Clark, who has been on the board since 2004, said she will not seek a fourth term, leaving the countywide seat open. That race is now the most competitive race with four candidates: former St. Petersburg City Council member Bill Dudley, retired Gulfport Elementary first-grade teacher Joanne Lentino, deputy director for Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections and St. Petersburg College adjunct ethics professor Matt Stewart and Beal.
The District 4 race is slimming down. Incumbent Ken Peluso is down to one challenger, Eileen Long, a 33-year educator who currently teaches science at Clearwater Intermediate. District 4 has lost two candidates: Anthony Maccaroni, whose P.O. Box is registered in Ozona, and Chris Hardman, who is dropping out of his third race for the School Board.
Maccaroni, a commercial real estate agent and disc jockey living in Ozona, said he entered the race because of his interests in politics but got too busy and withdrew. He had hopes of working to model the Palm Harbor schools his children currently attend off of his son's previous private school in New Jersey, which he says had more exposure to culture.
Hardman and Powers did not respond to requests for comment.
The District 5 race remains untouched. Incumbent Carol Cook will face off with Mike Petruccelli, a licensed real estate and insurance broker from Indian Shores, and Eliseo Santana Jr., a retired communications maintenance supervisor at the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.
School Board candidates will appear on the August 30 primary ballot. Early voting will be held from August 20 to 28. If no candidate wins a majority, then the top two candidates advance to a runoff election held Nov. 8.
District 1 is an at-large seat, meaning that any registered Pinellas County voter may vote for that seat. District 4 covers north county areas, including Tarpon Springs, East Lake and Palm Harbor. District 5 includes the central portion of the county, encompassing parts of Clearwater and Largo.