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Candidates for School Board District 2 stress budget, staffing issues

David O. Archie

Archie, 55, served four terms on the Tarpon Springs City Commission and was vice mayor for six years. He says he's running for School Board because he's passionate about education and wants to make a difference.

The most pressing issue facing the district, Archie says, is the budget. He has already been talking to personnel in the budget office to "analyze the problems and see where the dollars are."

Also of concern is Pinellas' lackluster graduation rate. Archie says he would urge the district to move forward in its plan to create "centers of excellence" to give high school students more career options.

He also would build partnerships with community organizations to boost the graduation rate as well as narrow the achievement gap between black and white students. Groups such as PACT and COQEBS should be tapped for their expertise in mobilizing the community and encouraging parent participation, Archie says.

The most valuable trait he would bring to the board, Archie says, is his ability to build consensus. He thinks the current board too frequently "gets caught up in personality issues."

Nina Hayden

Hayden, 33, has been a Pinellas public defender for the past five years. She is concerned with what she sees as the district's "labeling" of students and the way it deals with disruptive children.

"You do a particular thing and automatically you go to an alternative school," Hayden says. "It needs to go on a case-by-case basis."

Among her priorities as a School Board member would be attracting quality teachers by addressing teacher benefits and enhancing technology in the classroom. A member of the Lawyers for Literacy program, Hayden says she would work to provide mentors for children who struggle.

Budget problems could be eased, Hayden says, by using resources more efficiently. Among her ideas: reducing out-of-district travel and researching a better employee insurance plan.

When it comes to choosing a new district superintendent, Hayden would look for someone who above all will be a leader.

"We need someone who will tackle the issues we face head on," she said. "I don't think we can get results doing the same things we've been doing."

Minetha "Minnie" Morris

Morris, 32, worked for six years as a Pinellas elementary teacher and now teaches reading at Hillsborough Community College. This is her second bid for a School Board seat.

She thinks Pinellas has the ability to be a top-performing school district but that it operates inefficiently because of "trust issues" and a "top-down management style." A strong supporter of the Pinellas Education Foundation's push for site-based management, Morris says she doesn't believe in "having $80,000-a-year pencil pushers."

"We have a lot of highly trained principals," Morris said. "They need to be making more of the decisions."

Taxpayers should vote for her, Morris says, because as a former teacher and the mother of three school-age children, she has "a personal, vested interest in seeing schools succeed."

To close the achievement gap, she would stress diversity training for teachers to make sure they know how to work with children from different backgrounds. To raise the graduation rate, she would insist on a rigorous curriculum to keep students interested in school.

Sean O'Flannery

Like Morris, O'Flannery, 40, ran unsuccessfully for a School Board seat in 2006. This time around, the Lakewood High School social studies teacher has his eye on the budget.

Despite the need for belt-tightening, one of the worst mistakes the district could make, O'Flannery says, would be failing to adequately compensate teachers, prompting them to find other professions.

He also is concerned about the search for a new superintendent. As a board member, he would insist on a long-term commitment from any candidate vying for the job.

The first thing he would do to raise the graduation rate, O'Flannery says, is re-examine the district's attendance policy, which he thinks is too lenient.

"By requiring kids to come to school we'll hold them to a higher standard," he said.

A Clearwater High graduate, O'Flannery says his roots in the district as both a student and teacher will be an asset to the board.

"I know the maintenance workers, the cafeteria workers," he said. "I'll be able to get honest answers" on the issues.

Ron Walker

Walker, 61, was elected to the Pinellas School Board in 1984 and served for two terms. He says he has "real time knowledge of how the board can provide leadership" during a time of change.

"A lot of people think the board is running around in a circle, looking for someone who will give direction to what they're trying to do," said Walker, who managed apartment communities from 1993 to 2006. That said, Walker concedes that as an individual board member, he would have no power.

"My job is to get at least three people, hopefully more than that, to agree, 'This is the direction,' " Walker said.

At the top of his list of challenging issues is the graduation rate, because "every kid who falls through the cracks hurts the community." The best way to keep kids in school, Walker says, is to make the curriculum relevant.

Walker says he is "ready to embrace" the idea of site-based management, as long as the School Board lives up to its responsibility of letting schools know what success should look like.

"The job of the board is to set the tone and direction, then say to the schools, 'Have at it,' " Walker said. "You reward those that do the job and help those who can't make it the first time around."

Donna Winchester can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8413.

>>fast facts

About District 2

Term: two years

Boundaries: the entire county

Election date: Aug. 26

Notes: The winner in this race will complete the remainder of longtime School Board member Nancy Bostock's term. Bostock resigned from the board to run for a seat on the Pinellas County Commission.

The other races

To read about the candidates in the District 1 race, go to Read about the District 4 race in next Sunday's regional editions.

(School Board member Carol Cook is unopposed in District 3.)

Candidates for School Board District 2 stress budget, staffing issues 07/12/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 16, 2008 7:18pm]
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