TAMPA — Fourteen people are seeking three seats on the Hillsborough County School Board, a body that has had heated discussions and deep divisions in recent years.
Ranging in age from 19 to 67, the diverse group of candidates includes one incumbent, three who have run for the board before and several new names.
Members Candy Olson and Stacy White are stepping down in November, leaving their seats open. Each has three contenders.
In Olson's District 2, which covers South Tampa and parts of southeast Hillsborough, Michelle Popp Shimberg has raised by far the most money, $95,000. She's a longtime community volunteer who is related by marriage to a prominent family of lawyers and developers.
She faces Sally Harris, a child care operator mounting her second board campaign; and Michael Weston, a former teacher also running for the second time.
District 4 in east Hillsborough also has three candidates, two with high profiles. Terry Kemple, a Christian conservative activist, was unsuccessful in a 2010 challenge of April Griffin. In 2012, he made it to a runoff for Carol Kurdell's countywide seat.
But although Kemple is well known in conservative and tea party circles, insurance agent Melissa Snively has raised twice as much money and is former chairwoman of the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce. Hoping to upset both with a grass roots campaign is Dee Prether, a U.S. Army veteran and homeschool parent.
The most crowded race is for the countywide District 6 seat. That spot is now held by Griffin, a two-term board member who has been vocal in her criticism of superintendent MaryEllen Elia and, to a lesser extent, Elia's supporters on the board.
Moved by complaints about the district's bus system, Griffin organized a series of town hall meetings this year that attracted about 100 employees. Elia and the district responded with a far-reaching plan to reorganize the department and buy new buses.
But critics say Griffin's actions contribute to friction on the board, and several in her race say that if elected, they'll adopt a more conciliatory style.
That group consists of Asher Edelson, a student at Hillsborough Community College; Alison McGillivray Fernandez, a Temple Terrace City Council member; Stacy Hahn, an education professor at the University of South Florida; Paula Meckley, a longtime school volunteer; Dipa Shah, a lawyer; Lee Sierra, who works in real estate; and Randy Toler, who works for a technology company.
The winners will join four others on a board that is frequently at odds. Votes of 4-3 are not uncommon, and decisions such as the school bus purchase don't get unanimous backing.
The job pays $40,000 a year.
Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected]