In both runoff races for the nonpartisan Pinellas County School Board, a pair of challengers would bring fresh ideas and energy to a board that could use more of both as it works with a new superintendent and faces old challenges such as raising student performance, reducing spending and narrowing the achievement gap.
District 1, countywide
Elliott Stern, who spent the last 23 years of his career working in administration for Raymond James, has a businessman's mind but a passion for public education. The retired executive has served on the Pinellas Education Foundation and contributed to its recent report that offered smart suggestions for saving the district money that could be redirected into classrooms to raise teacher pay and improve technology. He has worked as a volunteer helping to turn around an underperforming St. Petersburg elementary school. And he is committed to expanding the district's high school vocational and technical training.
Stern, 73, came in second in the four-way August primary for this countywide seat, with 26 percent of the vote compared to incumbent Janet Clark's 35 percent. The results suggest voters have lost some enthusiasm for Clark, 58, a quiet two-term board member who has not made a lasting mark or launched a significant campaign. The district needs more passionate leadership, and Stern's professional experience would bring a welcome business perspective to a board dominated by educators.
For Pinellas County School Board District 1, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Elliott Stern.
District 7, South Pinellas
Rene Flowers fell just short of the majority she needed to win this seat outright in the five-way August primary. Now she faces the next-highest vote-getter (16 percent), incumbent Glen Gilzean Jr., who has served less than a year and has little connection to the district.
Flowers, 48, is a former two-term St. Petersburg City Council member who grew up in the district and is a known quantity. That is a particularly valuable asset in this district, which includes some of the county's poorest neighborhoods and most challenged schools. Through her various volunteer roles, she understands the disconnect between schools and many of the community's residents and should be able to help bridge it. She supports the district's application to take over the federal Head Start program, is open to reducing the district's property holdings, and has creative ideas for increasing parent participation.
Gilzean, 30, had barely moved to Pinellas late last year when Gov. Rick Scott appointed him to fill the seat left vacant after the death of board member Lew Williams. Gilzean understands education policy and has worked at filling the role, but it takes a better understanding of the community, a longer track record and deeper roots to be an effective board member.
For Pinellas County School Board District 7, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Rene Flowers.