Thursday, December 14, 2017
Education

Pinellas School Board member Robin Wikle announces plans to resign

A routine Pinellas School Board workshop played out as expected Tuesday — at least until a bombshell announcement by board member Robin Wikle that she plans to resign.

Wikle, who was elected in 2008 and 2012 and served as the board's chairwoman in 2012, told the board she will tender her resignation later this year. The delay allows her seat to be filled in the election and not through a gubernatorial appointment.

Her announcement came during the workshop's final portion, typically reserved for ancillary business not covered on the agenda.

And what had been a series of updates on the education budget, charter schools and the district's health plan turned into a tearful goodbye and pleas from other board members.

"I cried," Wikle told the Tampa Bay Times. "This is kind of the end of one journey. I didn't get on the board to make friends, but over the years I made great friends. This has been a great opportunity."

Other board members were taken aback by the announcement. Wikle had told only her parents and her husband of her plans. Ten minutes before the meeting, she briefed superintendent Mike Grego.

"We were definitely shocked," said board member Terry Krassner, who acknowledged she choked up when Wikle announced she would be leaving with two years left in her second term. "I'm going to miss her. She has been an honor to work with."

Other board members also fought back tears.

"There was emotion on my part," said board member Linda Lerner. "My part was to say, 'Okay, you can reconsider.' Try to convince her of that. I see it as a loss to our board."

Wikle, 50, of Tarpon Springs, did not detail her reasons for stepping down. But in a interview after the meeting, she paraphrased the biblical book of Ecclesiastes in offering an explanation.

"There is a season and a time for every purpose in your life," she said. "I feel really strongly that when I am called to do something, that I need to obey."

Wikle represents District 4, which covers most of northern Pinellas County. A mother of three sons, she campaigned in 2008 on increasing parental choice over a student's education, and has since championed technical education and apprenticeship programs in the trades.

In 2011, she was one of the strongest voices on the board questioning the performance of then-superintendent Julie Janssen, who was fired in August of that year.

She said she will continue to work aggressively before stepping down in the fall. Leaving now would trigger a scenario under which Gov. Rick Scott could appoint a successor to fill the remainder of her term.

Wikle, a Republican, said the timing is deliberate.

"Because my district elected me and it would not be fair, in my opinion, to have the governor appoint someone else," she said. "Citizens have the right to elect someone as their board member."

Her announcement comes with political ramifications, bringing to five the number of seats on the seven-member School Board that now will be up for grabs in November. In addition to Wikle's seat, voters will have a say on the four seats now held by board members Lerner, Krassner, Peggy O'Shea and Rene Flowers.

The extra race increases the potential for dramatic change on a board that has operated with few problems in recent years.

In Grego's last superintendent job in Osceola County, an election changed the dynamic of the School Board and friction ensued. He sounded unconcerned that the same thing could happen in Pinellas.

"I think this community is a very intelligent community and we'll move forward," he said. "I believe in the process."

Born in Tampa, Wikle has lived in Pinellas County since 1977. The former homecoming queen at Tarpon Springs High married Paul Wikle, the Spongers' quarterback, at 18, and went on to earn bachelor's and master's degrees from Florida State University. She is a former Pinellas County special-education teacher who continued to work part-time for Pinellas County Special Education while raising her sons.

She has a long record of civic and school involvement, including speaking through NOPE, Narcotics Overdose Prevention and Education. In 2006, Wesley Paul Wikle, her eldest son, was charged with forging a prescription. He served time in prison, and has been in and out of jail since his release.

Nonetheless, Wesley Wikle is in rehab and has been doing well the last six months, his mother said.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.

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