TAMPA — For as long as most kids have been in school, Carol Kurdell and Jack Lamb have been on the Hillsborough County School Board. Now seven newcomers are looking to oust the two in November.
The group includes a car dealer, an antiabortion demonstrator and an ex-Marine trying to give up prescription pain pills. There's a philosophy instructor who took his cue from Plato, and a PTA officer who's raising more money than anyone.
It's impossible to know how the races will look this summer when the ballots are made final.
"We'll find out how serious people are when they have to pay their qualifying money," Kurdell said. Those who do not get enough petition signatures must pay $1,480 to get on the ballot.
Susan Valdes and Doretha Edgecomb, the only others on the seven-member board up for re-election, have no opponents.
We know this about the rest:
Leo Perrella, 37, and challenging Lamb in north Hillsborough's District 3, taught adult education at Ruskin-area high schools until sheriff's deputies came knocking at his door Feb. 1.
Perrella said he was disoriented after quitting painkillers cold-turkey. Someone had filed a missing person report. Perrella said he was in his back yard.
Hillsborough sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said that deputies were told earlier that Perrella had an argument while armed with a hunting knife. That's nonsense, Perrella said. He said when deputies arrived, he wanted to go to a hospital, but they wanted to take him to jail.
He faced a charge of opposing an officer. The charge was dismissed, but he resigned his part-time teaching job.
He said his problem with pills stems from treatment the Department of Veterans Affairs gave him after he served in the Marines in the 1990s.
While the arrest threw a wrench in his campaign, he hopes to resurrect it by summer.
A fourth-generation educator who worked previously as a mortgage broker, Perrella said he wants to join the School Board to provide a teacher's perspective on important issues such as the Gates-funded Empowering Effective Teachers.
"If you want to empower teachers, you should give the control back to them," he said.
Not only are teachers not empowered, but many are trying to leave the profession and few feel comfortable speaking out, he told the School Board recently.
"We're degrading our teachers," he said. "We're micromanaging them and that doesn't work."
Cindy Stuart, 44, also in District 3, volunteers at her three children's Lake Magdalene-area schools. After a career in insurance software development, Stuart married, moved to Tampa and became a full-time mother.
PTA leadership is "a lot of work for no money and little recognition," she said. But it gives her a parent's view at a time when most board members no longer have kids in the schools. "I still have a vested interest in the decisions they are making."
In polling teachers and parents, Stuart found many dislike early-release Mondays, which shorten the school day but do not provide enough teacher planning time.
On the Gates project, she says she hears mostly negative comments from teachers. "You can say you are trying to help them, but you're still pointing the finger at them," she said.
Philip Bishop, 34, is one of five candidates hoping to unseat Kurdell in the at-large District 7.
He teaches philosophy at the University of South Florida and philosophy of education at the University of Tampa. Married with no children, he's a follower of the late pragmatist John Dewey.
When asked why he would run for the board, Bishop cited Plato's assertion that until philosophers become leaders of the republic or leaders of the republic become philosophers, society will remain mired in problems.
"I tell my students that they have to get involved in their community," Bishop said. "If I don't do the same, I'm a hypocrite."
He wants the school system to do more about child hunger. "Not every child gets enough to eat," he said. He'd like to see after-school and sports programs that provide dinner as well.
"Captain" Carl Francis Kosierowski, 62, drives a school bus and teaches emergency first aid at the YMCA.
And on some Saturdays, he stands outside a clinic on Fletcher Avenue with other volunteers as women arrive for abortions. He drives a van with ultrasound equipment so women can see pictures of the fetus.
"It's a prayerful thing, there's no confrontation," he said. When the women decline counseling, "We say, 'We're praying for you.' ''
The nickname "captain" was inspired by the "Lieutenant Dan" character in the movie Forrest Gump, said Kosierowski, who found kids have trouble with his long last name.
Kosierowski, who has no children, favors better pay for bus drivers. He wants to see a comprehensive recycling program.
He's horrified that the mother of a disabled high school student complains at every board meeting about her daughter's care. "Somebody needs to get off their high horse and help her," he said.
Robert McElheny, 64, vice president of Gator Ford, has sold cars for more than 30 years. He majored in education in college.
"I taught school for three years, but I had to get another job to survive," he said. He never lost his interest in education, and both his daughters became teachers.
McElheny hopes to lend fresh eyes to the district's $3 billion budget. "I think they can benefit from my expertise from a business standpoint," he said.
While reluctant to criticize any one area, he'd like a look at the transportation and contracting systems. "Everything can be looked at," he said. "I'd like to make sure the taxpayers' dollars are ending up in the classroom."
Michael Weston, 56, a math teacher at Freedom High School, has been speaking out at School Board meetings about Empowering Effective Teachers.
Despite the district's assertion that principals generally agree with peers in their assessments, Weston contends they often disagree, and adjust the scores to hide the discrepancy.
"Lots of teachers out there, about half the teachers I've spoken to, have seen this," he told the board.
Beyond the Gates issue, Weston wants the board to be more accessible. He wants the district to do more for students who lack basic skills and have little chance of attending college.
He entered teaching in 2010 after a lucrative career in information technology. Before that, he was a bit of a wild child who dropped out of high school and got back on track by way of night school and community college.
He was arrested three times between 1972 and 1981 on charges of petty larceny, driving under the influence and marijuana possession. In a letter attached to his job application, he admitted to all three acts. Married with three successful children, he said his past helps him relate to some of his underachieving students.
"My youth was spent mostly out of control," he wrote. "It was during my mid 20s that I finally developed a sense of self worth and pride of intellect."
Bryan V. Williams, 46, ran for the Pasco County School Board while divorcing his wife in Hillsborough. That was last fall.
The Tampa Bay Times questioned him about his job, marriage and children and published an article at the time showing inconsistencies in these areas.
Last month, Williams withdrew from the Pasco race and entered the one in Hillsborough. The Times tried to contact Williams and his campaign treasurer. He did not return the calls.
Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected]