Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Education

Two candidates say they will vie for soon-to-open Pinellas School Board seat

At least two candidates will vie for the seat Robin Wikle is leaving on the Pinellas School Board, both announcing their plans to run for the north county post this week.

Ken Peluso, 57, of Palm Harbor has filed his papers with the Supervisor of Elections Office while Beverley Billiris, 66, the former Tarpon Springs mayor, was driving to the supervisor's office to do the same on Thursday.

"I have a very valuable perspective, being in the trenches, so to speak," said Billiris, a fifth-grade teacher at Tarpon Springs Elementary.

Both candidates have resumes long with education activism in their respective communities and beyond. Peluso, a recently retired chiropractor, was chairman of Pinellas' Early Learning Coalition, served on the Palm Harbor Chamber of Commerce's education committee, and spent time on the statewide Early Learning Advisory Council. He narrowly lost the 2008 election to Wikle.

"This is not a new idea, not a new desire, not a new venture for me," said Peluso, adding that he held off on running for office again until he retired and had time to focus on a campaign and the ensuing post.

Billiris taught for 10 years before becoming vice mayor and then mayor of Tarpon Springs. She also has served as chairperson of the Pinellas Planning Council and co-authored a romance novel.

In 2010, Billiris unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Susan Latvala for a seat on the County Commission. She then returned to the classroom, where she has been for the past four years.

Billiris touted her budgetary and leadership experience, and said student achievement would be her top priority. "Speaking from the classroom, I have students who are being promoted, but are being left behind academically," she said.

She also questioned the school system's decision to remove many special-needs associates from classrooms next year, "because they're very valuable with students."

Peluso said he would like to see more diversity, both in career training for students and on the school board.

"I think the board needs more people that have been community-oriented and business-oriented," he said.

In the schools, "Pinellas has been actively and successfully initiating different certificate programs and relevant programs throughout the county, but I think we're a long way from where we need to be."

If Wikle is endorsing a candidate, she hasn't said so. The board member, who announced plans to resign in the middle of her term, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Four other board seats are up for election this November.

Rene Flowers, the District 7 representative, has filed her papers. Reached by phone Thursday, Peggy O'Shea and Terry Krassner said they plan to run for re-election as well. Linda Lerner did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Chris Tauchnitz of Oldsmar also filed to run for O'Shea's seat. He was not available to answer questions Thursday.

Contact Lisa Gartner at [email protected] You can follow her on Twitter @lisagartner.

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