Thursday, November 15, 2018
Business

Tampa Bay business leaders shudder at loss of MaryEllen Elia

Just three weeks into a new year, Tuesday's dismissal of Hillsborough County's school superintendent by a 4-3 School Board vote may stand as 2015's most damaging self-inflicted blow to our regional economy.

MaryEllen Elia will survive and prosper — elsewhere. But come next election, do not forget these four School Board names whose vindictive votes forced out Florida's Superintendent of the Year at a cost of $1.1 million. Make sure your own vote ensures the public careers of tone-deaf board members Susan Valdes, April Griffin, Cindy Stuart and Sally Harris end quickly.

All four flunked this leadership exam.

Elia, 66, was a key part of Tampa/Hillsborough's economic dream team, the business and education leadership group that has become so influential in selling this metro area to corporations looking to expand or relocate. Elia also won business kudos for helping shape education to better prepare students as a relevant future workforce.

"A school system committed to high-quality standards and working with the business community to ensure development of a qualified workforce is the most important asset a community can offer," Tampa/Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. CEO Rick Homans said. "It's the foundation of everything we do."

Elia frequently joined area business leaders when talking to expanding companies. She was there "with enthusiasm and credibility," Homans said. "She was a strong presence at the table."

Robust support for Elia from the business community ran wide and deep at Tuesday's School Board meeting where the superintendent was ultimately fired. Kathleen Shanahan — CEO of Tampa's Uretek construction company, former chairwoman of the State Board of Education and former chief of staff to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — circulated an online petition, capturing 1,100 signatures to retain a "world-class superintendent." The Tampa Port Authority took the extra step to approve a resolution supporting Elia. A "stunned" vice president at Tampa's Caspers, a major operator of McDonald's, told the board the real firing "will happen at the ballot box."

"I woke up feeling sick, angry and frustrated," lamented former Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, an Elia fan who attended Tuesday's hearing. "I do not know if this board is up to the task of building the best educational system."

Elia was not perfect. Even some business leaders sensed at times that she lacked political finesse and patience. Her personality could be intimidating. That may be why some business groups like the Tampa chamber considered but then skipped a resolution in her support.

Still, without Elia at the helm, I doubt the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation would have chosen Hillsborough for its $100 million school grant back in 2009. Now Hillsborough will have to rebuild its national educational reputation scorched by pettiness.

Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected] or (727) 893-8405. Follow @venturetampabay.

Comments
Free turkey with flu shot? The best Thanksgiving meal deals: Publix, Walmart, Winn-Dixie and Target

Free turkey with flu shot? The best Thanksgiving meal deals: Publix, Walmart, Winn-Dixie and Target

Every major grocer has some sort of turkey deal this weekend or in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. So, let's break down where you can find the cheapest bird for your friends and family.
Updated: 1 hour ago
Florida's Brightline rail service partners with Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group, will become Virgin Trains USA

Florida's Brightline rail service partners with Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group, will become Virgin Trains USA

Brightline, the South Florida train and development company that wants to expand to Tampa, will change its name to Virgin Trains USA after partnering with Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group.
Updated: 1 hour ago
Florida jobless rate drops to 3.4 percent, adds 17,800 jobs

Florida jobless rate drops to 3.4 percent, adds 17,800 jobs

Unemployment continues to fall across the state and the Tampa Bay region holds its own.
Updated: 3 hours ago
Green Bench Brewing's expansion 'an investment' into St. Petersburg

Green Bench Brewing's expansion 'an investment' into St. Petersburg

Set to open early next year, Green Bench Brewing walks us through the new space and ambitious new projects.
Updated: 5 hours ago
Longtime Florida Steel CEO Edward Flom of Tampa dies at 88

Longtime Florida Steel CEO Edward Flom of Tampa dies at 88

Under Edward Flom, Florida Steel's 2,300 employees produced reinforcing steel — often just called rebar — for projects from the Sunshine Skyway Bridge to Tropicana Field, plus countless homes.
Updated: 5 hours ago
Florida just banned indoor vaping. Will you be affected?

Florida just banned indoor vaping. Will you be affected?

Last week, Floridians voted to ban indoor vaping. We want to hear how you expect to be affected.
Updated: 6 hours ago
Inside the newsroom: Tampa Bay Times project team takes a deep dive inside a notorious Florida death penalty case

Inside the newsroom: Tampa Bay Times project team takes a deep dive inside a notorious Florida death penalty case

A project team at the Tampa Bay Times explores the death penalty in Florida through a notorious 1975 murder case.
Updated: 9 hours ago
Pasco Business Digest for Nov. 23

Pasco Business Digest for Nov. 23

News and notes on local businesses.
Updated: 9 hours ago
How do you feel about a $35 million bike path across the new Howard Frankland bridge?

How do you feel about a $35 million bike path across the new Howard Frankland bridge?

The overhaul to the Howard Frankland Bridge includes a bike and pedestrian path. Is it worth it?
Updated: 10 hours ago
Gulport woman sues Dog Bar over bite

Gulport woman sues Dog Bar over bite

A Gulfport woman is suing St. Petersburg's Dog Bar, saying she was attacked by a dog there in May.
Published: 11/16/18