The Hillsborough County School Board faces many tasks, from instituting a new teacher evaluation process to ensuring that academic and vocational opportunities are equitable across the district. These races are nonpartisan and open to all voters in the Aug. 14 primary.
Susan L. Valdes District 1 (west county)
Susan L. Valdes has been an important voice for underserved students since first being elected to the board in 2004. A former manager of a health care clinic, she has worked to ensure that technical and career education does not get lost in the school district's drive to excel in college preparation.
Valdes' support for improving opportunities for students to pursue a career in the trades has been a valuable contribution to a county hard-hit by the recession. She also has been a strong advocate for Hispanic and black students who struggle academically. She is visible throughout the district, which includes Town 'N Country, Citrus Park and West Tampa, and has an ear for what is happening at individual schools. Valdes, 47, is also not afraid to question the administration.
Eduardo "Eddy" Calcines, 56, is a longtime owner of a hair salon and a youth mentor. He shares the concerns over vocational opportunities and services for at-risk students, and acknowledges there "are not great substantive policy differences" between himself and Valdes. He paints himself as a consensus-builder and argues that Valdes has been divisive. Valdes needs to lose the drama sometimes, but holding the administration to account is part of the job.
For Hillsborough County School Board District 1, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Susan L. Valdes.
Cindy Stuart District 3 (north county)
This race is a choice between a capable veteran and an inspiring newcomer. Cindy Stuart's energy and outlook give her the edge.
Stuart, 45, is a former data systems manager and PTA president. She is well-versed on major issues facing the schools, and her common sense and fairness are borne out in her call for greater scrutiny of student achievement, teacher evaluation and career training efforts. She appreciates the need to balance funding for urban and suburban schools, and she is on target in calling for large districts like Hillsborough to become more vocal about educational policy in the state.
The incumbent, Jack Lamb, is a former teacher and school administrator who has served on the School Board since 2000. His knowledge of budget issues and statewide education policy give the board depth. Lamb, 78, has a commitment to equal access and insists "we're doing a lot right in public education."
Lamb has served the district well; he helped break a funding logjam years ago to reduce classroom overcrowding. But Stuart is more enthusiastic about getting her arms around a host of challenging problems. She is clear-eyed about what it takes to prepare students for the global economy. And her sense of urgency reflects the importance that school life plays in the areas of Northdale, Carrollwood, Lutz and New Tampa.
For Hillsborough County School Board District 3, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Cindy Stuart.
Doretha Wynn Edgecomb District 5 (central county)
Henry J. Ballard Jr. could make a legitimate run against the incumbent, Doretha Wynn Edgecomb. Her failure to oversee a scholarship program in the inner-city schools and her lax participation as a board member on a poorly run child welfare agency call into question her attention to the job. But Ballard is running against the administration, making overheated and self-serving charges that the district is "corrupted" and operates an "unsafe racist environment" for black and Hispanic students. It is a baseless, inflammatory smear that undermines his credibility.
Edgecomb's experience and temperament make her the best choice. The former teacher and principal has served capably since first being elected in 2004. She knows her way around this central and east Tampa district, and she knows how to address the needs of poor and minority communities without polarizing the debate.
Ballard, 61, a former teacher and school administrator, doesn't bring any new concerns to the table. Edgecomb, 69, has ideas for expanding life skills training and for reaching out to black males to keep them in school. For Hillsborough County School Board District 5, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Doretha Wynn Edgecomb.
Carol W. Kurdell District 7 (countywide)
Incumbent Carol W. Kurdell is the best in this crowded race.
Kurdell, 67, is a solid supporter of the administration's initiatives, from expanding enrollment in advanced placement courses to the new teacher evaluations being conducted with the Gates Foundation grant. Her criticisms tend to focus on process instead of overarching policy. But she is staunch in her defense of public education.
Michael Weston, 56, a high school mathematics teacher, is running on his concerns with the teacher evaluation program. He is a quick read and has a broad grasp of the district's challenges. "Joe" Jordan-Robinson, 58, an activist and engineer, is looking for a platform. Terry Kemple, 65, a conservative advocate, would paralyze the district in divisive social battles. The other candidates — car dealer Robert McElheny, 64, and Carl Francis "Captain Carl" Kosierowski, 62, a former school bus driver — have light agendas.
Her opponents are making an issue of Kurdell's incumbency, but that's what challengers do. In reality, Kurdell's 20 years on the board have covered a period of incredible progress. She is sensible and her fair play is the right fit for this countywide seat.
If no candidate wins a majority in the primary, the two top vote-getters face a runoff in the Nov. 6 general election. For Hillsborough County School Board District 7, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Carol W. Kurdell.