TAMPA — They used to ask more questions about lunch.
Now high school kids at Hillsborough County's yearly School Board student forum ask about Common Core, the next generation of state exams and how schools calculate their grade point average.
"I'm always amazed at the level of new questions that we get," said Chairwoman Carol Kurdell, wondering for a moment if cafeteria food is that much better.
"That's what the world is about. Ask the hard questions. Ask why. Ask why not."
The forum is a tradition that originated with Cecile Essrig, the first woman elected to the School Board, who died in 2012.
Moving alphabetically from one school to the next, students fire questions at board members, who answer some on the spot and deliver the rest in writing.
There are generally some questions based on news events, such as the death on Feb. 7 of 14-year-old Andrew Joseph III after he was ejected from the Florida State Fair on a day when most schools were closed and students had free tickets.
East Bay High School's Meagan Kopstad asked if the district should end Fair Day and instead close school on Presidents Day.
Member Candy Olson took that question, reminding her audience that "the child who was killed did not attend a Hillsborough County public school, and he was killed, of course, after school would have been out."
Olson also pointed out that, since other school districts close on Presidents Day, the fair could wind up even more crowded.
There were questions about outdated computers and software in the schools. "I feel like with how quickly technology changes, it's important for us to be cutting edge," said Alondra Medina of Steinbrenner High School.
Colin Brennan, also of Steinbrenner, asked if his school can hold graduations at Legends Field. No, he was told; there is too much risk of heat or rain.
Kailey Fernandez of Robinson High School raised an issue board member April Griffin discussed at a workshop earlier in the day: the need for more counselors. Fernandez said Robinson has one guidance counselor per 500 students and one college and career counselor per 1,500 students.
"So many kids need guidance about their future and careers," she said.
Board members encouraged the students to register and vote. More than that, they said, it is important to contact state lawmakers, who take many of these decisions out of their hands.
And, as invariably happens, a student asked why school starts so early when science shows teenagers are barely awake.
Answered Griffin: "Unfortunately, what drives that is what drives all of you to school, or some of you to school, and that's the bus schedule."
Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected]