TAMPA — When deciding how to divvy up thousands of voters in time for the next Hillsborough County School Board election, members had no problem.
But they did have a problem staying in their seats when it came time to vote on a small program at a few schools.
A simple conversation about a program run by a contractor Tuesday led to friction between member Susan Valdes, a sometimes dissenting voice on the board, and longtime members Jack Lamb and Carol Kurdell.
"I do not need to be gavelled down," Valdes said when chairwoman Doretha Edgecomb tried to end the argument. "Nor, when other board members are speaking in their turn, do I interrupt their comments and again attempt to scold and shut a board member up."
At issue was a $35,000 payment to Black Girl Speaks, a program to improve self-esteem, class participation and academic performance among girls at Middleton and Blake high schools.
Valdes said she heard unconfirmed reports that the program struggled over the summer. She didn't have details and said she had asked her secretary to help gather information.
"I'd like to do an audit on this particular program," she said.
Superintendent MaryEllen Elia said she wished Valdes had come to her with her concerns.
While no one was at the meeting to represent Black Girl Speaks, the principals of Blake and Middleton were. They said they were not aware of any serious problems, although Middleton principal Owen Young noted that "attendance was an issue."
The board voted to defer the matter. Still, it kept coming up.
Lamb said he didn't like how Valdes aired concerns without knowing the facts. "I hate operating on hearsay and innuendo," he said. Valdes took a jab at him for singling her out. "Member Lamb, what else is new?" she asked.
As Valdes described her attempts to ask questions earlier about the program, Kurdell sat next to her and fumed. "This item was voted to defer and we're talking about it in board member comments?" she shouted.
Member April Griffin took Valdes' side. "I feel like we're starting to censure one another," she said. "We need to be very careful. We're treading on a very thin wire here."
When the feud was over, the board went about the business at hand: setting voting district boundaries for board seats.
A new voting map needed to reflect results of the 2010 census, which showed that population has grown in east Hillsborough relative to the urban areas.
To address those population disparities, members voted to move some of the easternmost District 4, now represented by Stacy White, into Lamb's District 3 in the northern county. The western portion of Lamb's district will then be added onto Valdes' District 1 in West Tampa.
The maps now go before the U.S. Justice Department. If approved, they take effect in 2012.
In other action, the board decided to hold all high school graduations for the 2011-2012 year at the Florida State Fairgrounds between May 31 and June 8, with adult education on June 9.