TAMPA — Voters in eastern Hillsborough County are looking for a change on the School Board in District 4.
That much was clear on the night of the August primary, when they swept two-term incumbent Jennifer Faliero from office. Now they must decide what sort of change they want in the Nov. 2 general election.
Former school principal Richard Bartels, who earned 30 percent of the primary vote, says his experience and knowledge of the district will make him effective.
"This race is about ideas, who has the knowledge and the commitment," he said. "It's not enough to say that you believe in family values or you're a fiscal conservative."
But pharmacist Stacy R. White topped the primary field with 37 percent of the votes. He said voters aren't looking for a longtime district employee to represent them.
"I'm absolutely hearing on the campaign trail that voters want a fresh set of eyes on the board," said White, 38.
Both candidates say they will provide an independent, tough-minded perspective in overseeing the nation's eighth-largest school district.
For Bartels, 62, that perspective is rooted in the experience of a career working in the district, first as a teacher and then as a principal. He led both King and Freedom high schools before retiring in 2008.
"I understand my opponent has a full-time job," Bartels said. "How can someone who is working full time be visible in the schools?
"I want to see for myself what's going on in our schools," he said. "I have managed a budget for $40 million."
White, who manages a Winn-Dixie pharmacy and serves as a clinical assistant professor at the University of Florida, said he would cut back his work hours and make the time to be "100 percent accessible and have an exemplary attendance record."
And he promised to scrutinize the district's $3 billion annual budget with an eye toward making do with a bit less.
"The School Board as recently as 2008 voted to increase our property taxes," White said. "No, I don't believe they're doing more with less."
Both candidates say the board will likely need to revisit the contentious issue of early-release days. And White said he supports Bartels' suggestion to consolidate the current 12 days into a smaller number of full-time planning days for teachers.
But they disagree on Amendment 8, the ballot item to scale back Florida's class-size initiative.
White supports the measure, which would hold schools to last year's schoolwide averages while allowing individual classes to be three students larger in the primary grades and five students larger in Grades 4 through 12.
Bartels, like the teachers union that endorsed him, opposes Amendment 8. He says small classes are critical in the lower grades. "And second, I don't trust the Florida Legislature to fund public education and the state university system."
The candidates also diverge in describing the roles they would play on the seven-member School Board.
Bartels emphasized his persuasive skills and knowledge of education issues, saying he would craft workable solutions.
"I believe it's a question of who has the vision, who has the ability to achieve consensus, to achieve the goals that the district has established," he said.
White says he would provide a measure of accountability, serving as a check on a board and administration that he says often conducts its most important work behind closed doors.
"We could use more transparency in conducting business," he said. "I think it should be debated publicly."
White cited the board's consideration of a seven-year, $202 million partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — which included no workshops or public discussion prior to the board's acceptance of the deal — as a prime example.
"I recognize some of the positive feelings out there toward the Gates initiatives," he said. "They're not all bad. But I do stand by my feeling that the process was a bit rushed."
Bartels described the reforms in more positive terms, but said their goal of boosting teacher effectiveness won't succeed unless the district supports teachers and retains the best ones.
He said his experience as a Hillsborough administrator gives him one clear advantage: an ability to spot other administrators who aren't pulling their weight.
"If you're an administrator and you haven't improved, in my view, then you need to be removed from that position," Bartels said.