TAMPA — Some candidates for Hillsborough County School Board are lucky if they can scrape together $1,000 in a year.
Michelle Popp Shimberg, a 51-year-old political newcomer from a prominent Tampa family, has raised $56,743 in three months.
That's about 16 times the amount raised by her two competitors combined — which isn't saying much since one, Sally Harris, hasn't raised any money.
"Oh, my word," Harris said when told about Shimberg's war chest. "I had heard she had raised a lot of money. She should be running for Senate!"
Harris, 63, is running for the second time, as is Michael Weston, 58, who has raised $3,612 — including a $3,500 loan to himself — since January.
"We're up against South Tampa royalty," Weston said. "And yes, I do mean to say South Tampa royalty, capitalize it and italicize it. Let the folks in Apollo Beach know that."
The winner will replace Candy Olson, who is stepping down after five terms representing the district, which covers South Tampa and parts of southeast Hillsborough.
Weston made it clear, almost immediately after he lost a countywide race in 2012, that he wanted to unseat Olson.
Long a vocal critic of the Empowering Effective Teachers evaluation program and the district's treatment of special-needs students, Weston was the subject of an anonymous complaint that alleged he was disrespectful to students and staff at Freedom High School, where he was a nontenured math teacher.
The complaint did not result in discipline against him and most of the allegations concerning co-workers were refuted.
But the district recommended that Weston's principal consider the investigative report when evaluating him. He was not rehired this school year and he has a grievance pending.
Shimberg, meanwhile, has never worked for the school district but has served for 18 years on the district's Citizen's Advisory Council.
She's also been active in the PTA and other community organizations. She worked for four years, much of it in the banking industry, before she left the paid workforce to raise her three children, she said. She also served two terms as president of the Delta Delta Delta sorority, with 150,000 members.
She's married to attorney Robert Shimberg. He's the son of the late Jim Shimberg, who developed the master-planned community of Town 'N Country.
Her campaign contribution list includes close to $2,000 from donors with the last name Shimberg.
"I am obviously very proud of my family and my husband's family," Shimberg said. "They are long-standing members of the community. They are very philanthropic and I am proud of that.
"But if you look at my supporters, many of them are people I've worked with in different organizations. My background is in issues of interest to all parts of the community."
The list also includes more than $14,000 from businesses and limited liability corporations. That group includes the Ferman car dealerships, which Robert Shimberg has represented, and other automotive groups.
A $250 donation came from Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, whose city attorney used to be Jim Shimberg Jr.
Robert Shimberg also worked on the transition team of Attorney General Pam Bondi, who donated $500.
Weston and Harris said they are not frightened by the big numbers.
"You just hope and pray it's not a financial race," said Harris, who operates a child care center.
"I'm in the trenches. I go to work every day. I run a business. Last time (in the 2010 race she lost to April Griffin), the money came when I needed it."
Weston, for his part, said, "We're going to win this race on issues and not on money. Some issues are about money. We have to get education out of the hands of big money and make it about students again."
Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or firstname.lastname@example.org.