BROOKSVILLE — The tough questions from would-be constituents came just a few minutes into the race for the Hernando School Board's student representative seat.
Keith White, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at J.D. Floyd K-8 School in Spring Hill, wanted to know how the four candidates would work with their fellow board members.
"There are going to be some ideas that they're not going to like," White said. "I want to know, are you going to stand up?"
So began the campaign for the newly created School Board seat that aims to give the district's more than 22,000 students a direct voice on the board.
Four of the five high schools — Central, Hernando, Nature Coast Technical and Springstead — brought a nominee to Nature Coast's Black Box Theater. Weeki Wachee High did not have nominee because the school opened last year with freshmen and sophomores and does not yet have a full contingent of upperclassmen.
Every school in the district is represented by delegates: three for each K-8 and high school, two for each middle school and one for each elementary school. The delegates gathered Wednesday on risers bedecked with red, white and blue balloons.
"You guys are pretty important folks," superintendent Bryan Blavatt told them.
The delegates, Blavatt explained, will return to the theater on Election Day, Sept. 28, to cast votes for their peers.
"You need to be part of the democratic process at your schools to make sure you're representing them," he said.
With that, Blavatt opened the floor for nominations. The delegates for the high schools gave short speeches about their respective nominees, and then the candidates addressed the delegation and fielded questions.
Asked what issue they would to tackle first, the candidates aimed high.
Darius Robinson, a 17-year-old Central High senior, said he wants to revisit the board's controversial decision to eliminate bus service for students who live within 2 miles of school.
"I know a lot of people who have become conflicted with that," Robinson said.
Judhit Zarazua, a Hernando High senior, said she wants to help develop connections between parents and their children's schools.
"It's very important for parents to be involved," Zarazua said.
More resources are needed to help students whose families struggle with expenses associated with school, said Maria Campos, a senior at Nature Coast.
"I know it can be hard at times," Campos said. "It's hard for me."
Victoria "Tori" Selby, a senior at Springstead, said she would work to address an apparent shortage of supplies — an issue that has frustrated her in recent weeks. She and fellow students just received their textbooks for an Advanced Placement course, she said.
"You can't go your first three weeks without a textbook," Selby said.
As for White's question about standing up for constituents, all four candidates vowed to be a strong voice for them.
As Selby put it: "I won't give up. I'll keep talking, guys."
Blavatt sat in the front row, smiling and occasionally nodding.
It was Blavatt who, at the urging of his Student Advisory Committee, brought a proposal to the board earlier this year to create the non-voting, unpaid student position. The student representative, he said at the time, would bring a much-needed perspective to the board and leave with a better grasp of how the wheels of government grind.
"You'll understand why some of the decisions are made that are not that popular," Blavatt told the candidates Wednesday.
The candidates were encouraged to campaign, taking some time to visit district schools in the next two weeks.
Those visits will be crucial once elected, Blavatt told the candidates.
"It will be important to get out and represent not only the school that you're from, but all of the schools," he said.
During the speeches and question-and-answer session, 13-year-old Heather Greenleaf furiously scribbled notes on a legal pad. A paddle-shaped sign announcing her status as a delegate for West Hernando Middle School sat next to her.
Greenleaf, who serves as president of her school's Student Council, said she wanted to have plenty of information on each candidate to share with her peers.
"They all seem to have great potential," she said.
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.