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Pinellas County School Board, District 6

School Board | District 6

It's a choice between record-setting experience or a fresh face: Six-term School Board member Linda Lerner is asking for a seventh in a race against Maureen Ahern, a former journalist who thinks the board needs new blood to improve student performance.

Lisa Gartner, Times staff writer


Linda Lerner,71


School Board member

Maureen Ahern, 54


Commercial real estate manager

Experience Lerner is the longest-serving School Board member in Pinellas County history, first elected to the board in 1990. She is seeking her seventh term and a 28-year tenure. Lerner is known on the board for making sure the public is included in the school system's decisionmaking; she pushed for meetings to be held at night, for instance, so more working parents could attend. She says most Pinellas schools are doing well and that the district is moving in the right direction. A Pinellas native, Ahern worked as a journalist at the St. Petersburg Times for eight years. When reporting on her community, Ahern had to be careful what she was involved in, so she was happy to spread her activist wings after leaving the paper in 2004. She serves on the board of her neighborhood association and has been active in her church, Cathedral of St. Jude, where she has spent time as a substitute teacher. She co-owns a commercial real estate business.
What are your ideas for making the school district more efficient? Lerner says the district stopped buying supplies on an "as needed" basis to cut costs. She supports superintendent Mike Grego's "determination to 'rightsize' the district by determining how we are spending money and what results we are achieving as compared to other large districts with similar demographics." Ahern would ask the School Board to revisit the cost savings report from the Pinellas Education Foundation. "What a gift the district received," she said. Citing reports that the district is top-heavy, Ahern would look to see if administrative positions have been trimmed accordingly. If not, she would want to see cuts at the administrator level.
What should the district be doing differently to help low-performing schools? Schools should have more power to make decisions for their unique student populations, Lerner said. She'd like to see more music, art and hands-on activities that involve math and reading to engage students. Lerner also would like Pinellas to continue studying other large districts getting better results for their students. Ahern says these schools first and foremost need strong principals who take ownership of their staffs and engage the community. She would like the district to bring in "as many mentors as possible." Enforcing discipline and the dress code for students while motivating teachers with bonuses are also among her ideas.
How would you adjust the teacher evaluation system? Lerner opposes Florida's mandates for rating teachers. A valid system "does not base a large part of teacher evaluations on one test one day," she said. She supports a local pilot program that would de-emphasize state standardized test scores, and wants to decrease testing in general in Pinellas. Skeptical that 95 percent of Pinellas teachers were rated highly effective or effective while so many students struggled, Ahern would like to move away from the current system and also supports the Pinellas test model, which pinpoints problem areas to help teachers improve their craft.
How should the district respond to the increased number of charter schools? The district hired a second person to help it monitor the performance and legal compliance of charter schools this year, Lerner said. She supports the district's takeover of a failing charter school and its efforts to keep students in traditional schools through specialty programs, such as two new elementary schools hosting technology and digital learning magnets. The School Board should move more quickly to close a failing charter school than it has in the past, Ahern said. She wants to see Pinellas rely less on magnets to compete with high-performing charter schools, and focus instead on making all of its traditional schools top-tier. It's a false competition, Ahern said, since charters receive public dollars and are part of the system.
Income School Board and Social Security Real estate
Fundraising $16,237 $14,990
Personal Lerner is married to Phillip Lerner, a retired surgeon. They live in Seminole and have two adult sons. Ahern is the wife of Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole. Together they have three grown daughters.


About the job: The District 6 seat represents north St. Petersburg, Pinellas Park, Seminole and the gulf beaches. 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 6 08/14/14 [Last modified: Thursday, August 14, 2014 4:25pm]
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