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Pinellas County School Board, District 4

School Board | District 4

Three candidates — Beverley Billiris, John Nygren and Ken Peluso — are vying to replace Robin Wikle. Wikle chose to step down early. District 4 includes Tarpon Springs, Oldsmar, Palm Harbor, Safety Harbor, Dunedin and parts of Clearwater, including Countryside and the north beaches. Cara Fitzpatrick, Times staff writer


Beverley Billiris, 66


Retired teacher

John Nygren, 70


Retired teacher

Ken Peluso, 57


Retired chiropractor

Experience Billiris was elected mayor of Tarpon Springs in 2004 and served until March 2010. Prior to that, she was on the City Commission from 1998 to 2002. She has been chairwoman of the Pinellas Planning Council. She retired from the Pinellas County School District in June, after teaching at Tarpon Springs Elementary. She also is owner of Sponge Merchant International. Nygren retired from the Pinellas County School District in 2011, after serving as a math teacher and coach. He has worked as a consultant and trainer in the school system, specializing in math education. He taught more than three decades in Massachusetts and Florida. He served as a member of the School Committee of Lynn in Massachusetts for four years in the 1980s. A longtime chiropractor, Peluso retired last year. He owned the Peluso Chiropractic Center in Palm Harbor from 1989 to 2013. He was chairman of the Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas from 2007 to 2012, served on the state's Early Learning Advisory Council, and is on the board of directors for the Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital Foundation. He ran against Robin Wikle for School Board in 2008 and lost.
What are your ideas for making the school district more efficient? As we buy new buses, we need to have them be fuel-efficient and clean. The district has properties that need to be sold. Look into the number of administrators in the county. Use zero-based budgeting in every school. Review every department's budget and staffing and weigh that against the needs of students, families and community.
What should the district be doing differently to help low-performing schools? Low-performing schools are mostly Title 1 schools and have many different challenges than other schools. However, we treat them the same. We need to give more autonomy to the individual school and classroom teacher. Get rid of the insanity mentality of doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. New leadership is needed. Ask the teachers what they need to make their students successful. The first and most obvious action is to determine why schools are underperforming. Then, evaluate the school administration, community outreach programs, staffing and available technology and act according to that analysis.
How would you adjust the teacher evaluation system? The formula for grading used still needs to be revised. The system should consider factors that teachers have no control over, such as low parent involvement and poor attendance. The current system is terrible. Teachers should be evaluated by someone who is certified in their subject. Evaluations should be done throughout the school year, not just once. It would be prudent to wait for the results of the district's pilot program. It also is the law that teachers be evaluated based on test scores and the School Board can't change that.
How should the district respond to the increased number of charter schools? I do believe that we need to continue to create special programs, not necessarily to compete with charter and private schools, but to keep students engaged. We also need to hold charter schools as accountable as traditional schools. Poorly run charter schools should be closed. Charter schools are intended to motivate the public schools to improve. I believe the number of charter schools would decrease if the administration did its job. Focus on improving the district's schools to make a stronger case for parents to keep their children in the school system. Would also support creating programs to compete; however, we have an obligation to all children in the district.
Income School district salary and Social Security Pension, Social Security and consulting income Income from chiropractic center and life insurance
Fundraising $8,775 $2,000 $33,218
Personal Married. No children. Lives in Tarpon Springs. Divorced. Five adult children. Lives in Dunedin. Married. One adult stepson, one adult son. Lives in Palm Harbor.
Website None


About the job: School Board members oversee a $1.2 billion budget and a system with about 101,000 students and nearly 14,000 full-time employees. They serve four-year terms and are paid $41,985 a year.

Pinellas County School Board, District 4 08/14/14 [Last modified: Thursday, August 14, 2014 4:25pm]
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