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Linda Lerner for Education Commissioner? Pinellas County School Board candidates offer their ideas for Florida's next education chief

There are a lot of issues facing Pinellas County public schools.

But the first question out of the gate when the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club hosted nine candidates in two contested races for Pinellas County School Board dealt with one issue they would have no power over:

In the wake of Gerard Robinson's resignation, who should be Florida's next education commissioner?

Only five of the candidates took the bait when Pinellas Classroom Teacher Association Kim Black asked them who they would choose to replace him.

The answers ranged from Miami-Dade school superintendent Alberto Carvalho to longtime Pinellas County School Board member Linda Lerner, who laughed from the audience when District 7 candidate Corey Givens uttered it.

District 1 At-Large candidate Jim Jackson suggested Carvalho, who was Pinellas' first choice for superintendent during its 2008 search. Jackson, a retired psychology professor and two-time School Board candidate, was the only person in that four-way race to make a suggestion.

In the five-person District 7 race, former St. Petersburg City Council member Rene Flowers suggested former U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek. School Board appointee Glenton Gilzean, Jr., offered up Pinellas superintendent John Stewart. And middle school paraprofessional Cassandra Jackson said she'd hire former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist.

The answers provided just a few of the offbeat moments during the hour-long grilling of the folks vying to serve in one of the seven $40,457 per year School Board seats. They also fielded questions on everything from voucher programs and charter schools to No Child Left Behind to bullying and parental involvement.

Gilzean, who founded an organization designed to help parents locate choices for their kids, was the only candidate to express support for expansion of both charter and voucher programs.

District 1 incumbent Janet Clark and challenger Shelley Ladd-Gilbert offered qualified support of some charter programs, as did District 7 candidate Cassandra Jackson.

Those who said they don't support expansion of voucher or charter programs included, in the District 7 race, Flowers and Givens and attorney Keisha Bell, and in District 1 race, retired Raymond James executive Elliott Stern.

Jim Jackson criticized some charter programs as being "boondoggles" and said he doesn't think "public schools should be in the business of running charter schools."

One unexpected moment came during the candidates' closing remarks. Givens challenged Flowers to state publicly if she plans to run for state Rep. Darryl Rouson's seat in two years.

Flowers originally entered that race, but decided to go for School Board instead when Lew Williams' untimely death left a vacancy on the board.

As Givens spoke, Flowers smiled, nodded and declared, loudly, "I will not run for Rep. Rouson's seat in two years!"

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or rcatalanello@tampabay.com.

Linda Lerner for Education Commissioner? Pinellas County School Board candidates offer their ideas for Florida's next education chief 08/01/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 10:30pm]
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