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School Board District 2 candidates offer sharp contrasts

Regardless of which candidate Pinellas voters select Tuesday in the District 2 School Board race, they'll have the chance to add a new face to a group that has seen little change in recent years.

On the surface, the choice is between a lawyer and a teacher, two newcomers to school governance. But a closer look reveals differences in style and philosophy, as well as opinions on issues such as student discipline and the district's budget crisis.

Nina Hayden, a lawyer in the Public Defender's Office, is making her first bid for the School Board. Hayden, 34, moved to Pinellas from Maryland in 1998 and graduated from Stetson University College of Law in 2003.

Sean O'Flannery, 40, a social studies teacher and volleyball coach at Lakewood High, ran unsuccessfully for the School Board two years ago. He graduated from Clearwater High and the University of South Florida, and was a corporal in the Marine Corps.

Hayden has referred throughout the campaign to her experience with the juvenile justice system, saying it has shaped her perspective on how school officials should deal with students who are brought up on drug, alcohol and weapons charges.

If elected, Hayden says, she would urge the board to deal with such students on a case-by-case basis, rather than following an across-the-board zero-tolerance policy that reassigns them to alternative schools and often refers them to the court system.

"I can see the challenges these kids are facing on a daily basis," she said. "When they're labeled and placed into a school where expectations are low, they're not going to succeed."

O'Flannery frequently has referred to his experience inside the classroom, insisting that kids should be held accountable for their actions.

"By having zero tolerance, you're saying, 'We're going to have one standard and this is it,' " O'Flannery said. "No guns, no drugs, no alcohol."

The candidates also differ on how they would oversee the district's $1.5-billion budget.

Hayden says she would look for ways to better use current resources, reducing spending on travel and unnecessary hires. O'Flannery says he would look for additional revenue sources, encouraging the board to transfer $20-million from the district's capital outlay budget to the general operating fund to cover non-recurring expenses.

Hayden and O'Flannery were the top two vote getters in what began in the spring as a five-person race to replace Nancy Bostock, who is running for the County Commission. The two are competing in the general election because no candidate got more than 50 percent of the vote in the Aug. 26 primary.

Unlike the other two School Board races, the district winner will serve only two years.

Throughout the campaign, Hayden consistently has attracted more money, collecting a little more than $15,000. Among her donors are Clearwater lawyer Ed Armstrong, who contributed $750; Pinellas Education Foundation executive committee members Gerald Hogan and Gus Stavros, who each contributed $500; and three area Democratic clubs, which contributed a combined $1,100.

O'Flannery collected $4,400, primarily from teachers and family members. His largest single contribution — $500 — came from the union that represents the district's support employees.

Aside from their views on student discipline and the budget, the candidates' biggest difference could be one of personal approach.

"I'm not the type of person who would come on board and just criticize everything that's happened," Hayden said. "I'm a person who will say, 'How are we doing and how can we make things better?' "

O'Flannery says he is more likely to "go up the chain of command" until he gets an answer, a holdover from his days in the military.

"I listen with an open mind, but if I think I'm correct, I'll thank them for their time and ask who their superior is," O'Flannery said.

Hayden would keep her job with the Public Defender's Office, but scale back her hours if she wins Tuesday. O'Flannery would take a sabbatical from his teaching position.

School Board District 2 candidates offer sharp contrasts 10/28/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 30, 2008 3:28pm]
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