Pinellas teachers union endorses School Board candidates, steering clear of incumbents

At one of the Pinellas County School Board's regular meetings in Largo, board chairwoman Rene Flowers appears on the television monitors. Flowers and other incumbents on the board were not endorsed for reelection by the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association for the 2018 election. The union says it is pushing for new blood on the board. [Times (2014)]
At one of the Pinellas County School Board's regular meetings in Largo, board chairwoman Rene Flowers appears on the television monitors. Flowers and other incumbents on the board were not endorsed for reelection by the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association for the 2018 election. The union says it is pushing for new blood on the board. [Times (2014)]
Published June 7 2018
Updated June 7 2018

As three Pinellas County School Board members try to hold onto their seats this summer, the teachers’ union will throw its weight behind new blood.

The Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association endorsed each incumbent in 2014, but PCTA president Mike Gandolfo said that in this election, the union is backing current or recent teachers who have a firsthand understanding of today’s classroom.

"It’s just time for a change," he said. "The School Board has been very detached from a lot of what’s been happening."

When teachers come before the board to push back against standardized testing, unfair evaluations or inflexible curricula, Gandolfo said, the board is often sympathetic but seems to forget it has the power to act.

"We just need some people there that know the issues already, don’t have to get a grasp of the issues, and are ready to do the work of correcting it," he said.

That means endorsing Carl "Z" Zimmerman, a recently retired journalism teacher of three decades, instead of board vice chairwoman Peggy O’Shea, who has a lengthy resume of public service but has not taught.

It means favoring Nicholas Wright, who teaches technology at Lealman Innovation Academy, instead of board chairwoman Rene Flowers, another civic leader who doesn’t come from a classroom background.

And it means backing Jeff Larsen, a Tarpon Springs Middle School reading teacher and coach, instead of Terry Krassner. Elected to the board in 2010, Krassner is a former teacher, but she "comes from a time when education was different," Gandolfo said, before performance-based pay and annual contracts loomed large.

In the only race without an incumbent, in District 6, the union has endorsed Lorena Grizzle, an elementary school teacher of 14 years. She faces Matt Stewart, a human resources manager for Hillsborough County and an adjunct ethics professor at St. Petersburg College.

O’Shea, the vice chair, stood by her record with teachers.

"They didn’t even bother to interview me or the other incumbents, so how do they know where we stand?" she said of the union. She cited the board’s investments in teachers, including dollars that come from the special property tax referendum. "We fight the state on all of the craziness going on with the teacher evaluations constantly," O’Shea said. "Somebody new isn’t going to know how to do that."

Krassner and Flowers did not return calls for comment.

The PCTA, which represents about 4,000 teachers in Pinellas, had a habit of endorsing incumbents but broke from it two years ago, endorsing teachers Eileen Long and Joanne Lentino, who were elected.

Other candidates in District 2, alongside Krassner and Larsen, are Lisa Cane, who works in performing arts, and David H. Schneck, a math teacher at Seminole High School.

In District 3, facing Zimmermann and O’Shea, is Nicole Carr, an educational specialist.

And facing Flowers and Wright in District 7 are Shyla Sams and Bilan Joseph, a teacher.

Contact Claire McNeill at [email protected]

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