TAMPA — In an election year, tempers sometimes run short. Witness the Hillsborough County School Board, where the mundane matter of setting travel guidelines has emotions flying high.
Board member Susan Valdes, under scrutiny amid a re-election campaign for spending $50,000 on travel in four years, blames Chairwoman Jennifer Faliero for politicizing the issue.
Valdes, who had by far the highest travel bill on the board, has asked to see calendars for each member to see who is doing what. Faliero has asked for the same thing, but won't say why.
"We're an overage bunch of high school kids," Valdes said. "And I liked my high school years."
Valdes noted that board member Candy Olson had curt words for her at the beginning of a meeting Thursday to draft travel guidelines. Olson was none too happy that Valdes called herself the hardest working board member in news reports.
"She needs to get over herself," Olson said.
She pointed out that Valdes has been on the board four years and needs to figure out how to work within the system, rather than "whining about not getting what she wants."
For the most part, the board members took pains to be courteous during the one-hour meeting. Jack Lamb and April Griffin helped draft a proposal that called for approving travel through a small board committee.
There would be a budget of some form and consideration given to those members required to travel for leadership roles on external associations.
Griffin wanted to broaden the scope to include trips taken by top school officials. She said it would be important to know if vendors paid for trips before approving contracts with them. But the superintendent indicated it would take considerable work to collect those records.
"When I brought up some other issues, they were shot down pretty quickly," Griffin said, calling that par for the course. "It's definitely been a roller coaster of emotions with this board."
The board will have ample time to discuss matters further at their regular meeting Tuesday and at a workshop on travel guidelines Thursday afternoon.
Faliero insisted the majority are trying to steer the discussion back to where it belongs — on back-to-school issues.
But she was upset that "outright lies" were being stated to the media, like Valdes' comment that she was stopped from reporting back on what she learned from out-of-county trips.
"We're going to limit the conversation that deals with personal attacks and move forward," said Faliero, saying there was nothing personal about her request to see travel records. "I can't help it that someone does not want to be held accountable."
Letitia Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3400. For more education news, visit The Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.