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Pinellas School Board member Mary Brown won't seek re-election

Mary Brown, a two-term incumbent on the Pinellas County School Board, announced Monday that she will not seek re-election.

"I think you reach a point where you realize you've truly given it your all," Brown, 74, said. "Now it's time for others to step up to the plate and jump in and see what they can do to help."

Brown, who was the first African-American elected to the board, is the second School Board incumbent to bow out this election season. The first was Nina Hayden, the board's only other African-American member.

Brown's decision ensures at least two of seven seats will change hands this year.

Brown represents District 7, which includes much of St. Petersburg and south Pinellas, where four high schools are expected to be under state oversight this year due to poor student performance.

Brown earlier said she would seek another term but said Monday that she had second thoughts after a recent vacation. She was torn between pouring more energy into helping struggling schools and spending more time with her family.

"I take this seriously. I've had a lot of sleepless nights" thinking about school issues, she said. "If I was 10 years younger, I would not be at this point."

During her tenure, Brown became known in part for asking the administration plenty of questions, not giving up until she fully understood the ramifications of potential changes.

Fellow board member Carol Cook said Brown came to the board during a time of much discussion on helping underachieving students succeed.

"Because it was a focus of hers," Cook said, "it helped us make it a focus of the board's."

Watson Haynes, co-chairman of a group working with the plaintiffs in Bradley vs. the Pinellas County School Board desegregation lawsuit, said Brown sought to be a consensus builder.

"I think she recognized that she could vote by herself or she could work with the majority," he said.

But Brown's critics say she didn't do enough to stand up for her supporters' interests.

Community activist Sami Scott said Brown wasn't vocal enough as Pinellas returned to neighborhood schools as a way to end years of busing for desegregation.

"She has spent the last eight years catering to politics while completely abandoning her constituents and their children," Scott said.

Ray Tampa, president of the St. Petersburg branch of the NAACP and a former principal who ran against Brown four years ago, said that while she gave it her all, he often disagreed with her.

Now, Tampa is considering another run for the seat. "Definitely," he said. "And I say that with a big 'D.' "

Brown said she worked hard to represent all of her constituents, including students whose parents were not engaged in their children's schooling. "We should be doing those things we can to help the parents change," she said. "But the kid is right here. We can't wait."

Two candidates have already filed to seek Brown's seat: lawyer Keisha Bell, 35, and Jim Jackson, 65, a retired psychology professor. The primary is Aug. 24.

Pinellas School Board member Mary Brown won't seek re-election 05/24/10 [Last modified: Monday, May 24, 2010 10:49pm]
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