TAMPA — One minute you're just another guy in the audience, and the next minute you're signing the big checks.
It happened that fast for Stacy R. White, the Valrico pharmacist and parent who officially became the new face on the Hillsborough County School Board at last week's meeting.
Having ousted incumbent Jennifer Faliero and edged out former principal Richard Bartels in the fall election in District 4, White, 38, suddenly found himself in the hot seat along with re-elected incumbents Candy Olson and April Griffin.
The board meeting began with the fanfare of the Riverview High School Navy JROTC color guard and a clamor from the Leto High drum line. White sat in reserved seats near the front alongside his wife, Barbie, and their trio of well-behaved children.
When the time came, Circuit Judge Ashley Moody let the whole family hold the Bible as White held up his hand to recite the oath of office. Then, clutching a maroon binder, he strode behind the dais to help lead America's eighth-largest school district.
"What I'm looking forward to accomplishing as a School Board member is seeing that cooperation between fine administrators and teachers, working closely with the parents of children out in the community for the betterment of education," White said in his opening remarks, after thanking supporters.
With that, it was on to the business of the meeting.
As School Board meetings go, this one was fairly typical. There was some talk about the recent controversy over early release days in the calendar. Officials announced plans to start two single-gender middle schools, new International Baccalaureate programs, and other magnet programs in the district, with help from an $11.5 million federal grant. And three parents challenged the board's policy of allowing cell towers to be placed near schools.
"I just want to go on record saying I'm supportive of a workshop solely devoted to cell towers," White said, agreeing with other board members to schedule one. "It's certainly been an issue in the community, and quite frankly a divisive issue."
He later told the St. Petersburg Times that he opposed the practice of delegating the decision on authorizing towers to individual school principals. "I think it should be in the board's hands," he said.
There was also a raft of spending to approve, including $400,000 in districtwide flooring projects; $2.6 million to fund the School Resource Officer program with the Sheriff's Office; $6 million worth of staff training plans to be approved by the state; and $90,000 for "trophies, plaques, promotional and novelty items."
All told, the board authorized some $23.6 million in spending at the meeting, including that federal magnet schools grant.
White campaigned as a fiscal conservative, but said he examined the agenda before the meeting and found nothing amiss. In fact, his first motion on the board was to pass the consent agenda containing many of those items.
"What we're (focusing) on is whether that dollar amount was budgeted," he said, adding that he planned to watch the board's $2.8 billion annual spending plan "like a hawk."
He offered high praise for the lavish spread at an earlier reception for the newly elected members. Culinary arts students from Leto High outdid themselves, White said.
"There was a meatball hors d'oeuvres, chicken, pot stickers, roast beef sliders. It was just so great to see the quality of what the students put into it. I would have thought I was being served in a restaurant.
"It was hands-on and budget-neutral," White said.
Tom Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3400.