Now more than ever, the Hillsborough County School Board must focus on providing a higher quality education for its more than 200,000 students. The School Board will help overhaul areas ranging from student transportation to teacher evaluations and implement the new Florida Standards, the state's version of the Common Core Standards. There are two open seats and one incumbent seeking re-election. These races are nonpartisan and are open to all county voters in the Aug. 26 primary.
Michelle Popp Shimberg
District 2, south county
Michelle Popp Shimberg has demonstrated an 18-year commitment to Hillsborough's public schools through volunteer work, including serving on the School Board's Citizen Advisory Committee. Now she wants to do something more about the challenges facing the district. Shimberg, 51, wants to focus on closing the achievement gap and providing increased vocational opportunities for students who are seeking to join the work force after high school graduation rather than attend college.
Shimberg's opponents have run previously for the board. Sally A. Harris, 64, owns a preschool in South Tampa and has worked with special needs children. Michael Weston, 58, is a former high school math teacher who ran for a countywide seat in 2012.
Both Harris and Weston have solid criticisms of the district and good ideas about how to move it forward. Harris wants to improve education in the earliest grades and sees herself as a one-term board member. It's hard to imagine her agenda could be accomplished in a single term. Weston wants more accountability and transparency from the district administration. But he can be argumentative and dismissive of opposing ideas, which would diminish his effectiveness on a seven-member board.
Shimberg is a first-time candidate who owes her popularity, in part, to being from a well-connected family with a history of philanthropic giving and civic goodwill. She would need to make the transition from volunteer to policymaker on a board that faces serious issues in the coming years.
For Hillsborough County School Board District 2, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Michelle Popp Shimberg.
District 4, east county
This race pits two political newcomers against a conservative stalwart who has significant name recognition for all the wrong reasons.
Melissa Snively, 43, runs her own insurance agency. As a small business owner, she understands budgeting, managing employees, troubleshooting and providing customer service, all skills that would translate well to the School Board. She is also an advocate of more career and technical opportunities for students who do not plan to attend college and employs several people without college degrees in her firm.
Dee Prether, 50, is a grass roots candidate who is passionate about education research, strengthening the state's curriculum and providing more leadership. A certified teacher and former Army sergeant, Prether describes herself as a disgruntled parent who is disappointed with school standards and curriculum. She has been a substitute teacher and exposed her children to several educational opportunities including home school, dual enrollment, school choice and Florida Virtual School.
Terry Kemple, 67, has twice run unsuccessfully for the School Board. The conservative Christian activist has a long history of inflaming social causes. He has been on the wrong side of issues ranging from gay rights to religious tolerance. The nation's eighth-largest school system deserves leadership that builds consensus rather than promotes division.
Snively is a strong, sensible voice for the residents of east Hillsborough. Her business background and volunteer work in education, civic and business circles afford her the varied connections that put her in touch with her district's needs.
For Hillsborough County School Board District 4, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Melissa Snively.
Alison McGillivray Fernandez
District 6, countywide
School Board member April Griffin, 45, has tackled important issues such as transportation, special-needs education and career training opportunities for students. But this crowded race offers promising new voices committed to pushing the same priorities without the theatrics.
Alison McGillivray Fernandez is the only newcomer in this crowded race who holds public office. Fernandez, 46, has twice been elected to the Temple Terrace City Council. A former financial auditor, she wants to tighten spending, examine budget priorities, hold administrators accountable and govern with professionalism.
Stacy Hahn, 47, brings deep policy knowledge to the race. Hahn is a professor in the University of South Florida's College of Education and holds a doctorate in special education, which would serve the board well as it examines its special needs programs and teacher evaluation procedures.
Paula Meckley, 53, is a former PTA president with a track record of getting projects completed in the district, ranging from curriculum changes to school renovations. Using her contacts in the business and faith communities, she ran an innovative tutoring program for low-income students. Her personality could bring people together and promote compromise. Dipa Shah, 43, is an attorney with a commitment to greater accountability and openness. Other candidates include: Asher D. Edelson, 20, who is running on a nutrition platform; Randy Toler, 58, who would create an ombudsman for special needs families; and Lee Sierra, 32, a former substitute teacher.
The School Board needs an experienced leader who understands the myriad issues it faces and has a track record of working through controversial topics and navigating bureaucracy without eviscerating other colleagues or the administration. With her city government background, Fernandez is the best choice.
For Hillsborough County School Board District 6, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Alison McGillivray Fernandez.
The Tampa Bay Times offers candidates not recommended by the editorial board an opportunity to reply. Candidates for Hillsborough School Board should send their replies no later than 5 p.m. Tuesday to Tim Nickens, editor of editorials, Tampa Bay Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL, 33731; or through our website at www.tampabay.com/letters. Replies are limited to 150 words.