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Times recommends for Pinellas School Board

Voters can bring welcome change to the Pinellas County School Board by replacing two incumbents in the Aug. 14 election. If no candidate wins a majority, the top two vote-getters in these nonpartisan races will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot. • Pinellas, a once-proud district, is in desperate need of fresh ideas and new energy. State support and teacher pay are eroding, enrollment is declining, and an end to extensive busing to cut costs has resegregated many schools. While superintendent John Stewart and a more cohesive board have helped stabilize things in the past year after the previous superintendent was fired, the search for a permanent superintendent has been less than inspiring. • If the incumbents are not re-elected, the new board members may have no say in who is hired as superintendent. But they would have significant influence over advising that new leader and leading the district in a more positive direction.

Elliott Stern District 1, countywide

Janet Clark, 58, a former Meadowlawn Middle School teacher, is seeking her third term in the District 1 race, which is open to all voters. Clark frequently has been too slow to embrace change, including when it was obvious former superintendent Julie Janssen had to go last year. She has said she would be happy to return to the classroom, and it's time.

The most exciting candidate is Elliott Stern, 73, a retired executive from Raymond James who has served on the Pinellas Education Foundation's board of directors and has volunteer experience helping to turn around an underperforming St. Petersburg elementary school. He was among the key people involved in the recent report by the foundation suggesting smart ways the district could save millions of dollars through streamlining or reorganizing its nonclassroom operations. He wants to find cost savings to increase teacher pay and improve technology in the classroom. He also wants to encourage community connections to schools and expand the district's high school vocational and technical training. His business acumen would provide a valuable perspective that is in short supply on the board.

Jim Jackson, 67, is a retired college educator who ran unsuccessfully two years ago for the District 7 seat and is a serious candidate. Jackson has shown an admirable commitment to tracking the School Board, visiting schools and understanding the districts' challenges. He is passionate about education and conversant in education philosophy. But the School Board is already dominated by educators.

Clearwater preschool owner Shelley Ladd-Gilbert, 42, is well-meaning but lacks a breadth of knowledge about the district.

It would be enormously helpful to bring a sharper business perspective to the board. For Pinellas County School Board District 1, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Elliott Stern.

Rene Flowers District 7, South Pinellas

Glenton Gilzean Jr., 29, is the incumbent in this race, but just barely. The new St. Petersburg resident was appointed to the board late last year by Gov. Rick Scott after the death of well-respected board member and retired district administrator Lew Williams. Gilzean shows a commitment to the job and brings some fresh perspective, but this position should be filled by someone much more familiar with the community, its schools and its particular education needs.

One candidate stands above the rest. Rene Flowers, 47, a former two-term St. Petersburg City Council member, grew up in the district and is among its most visible residents. Her broad experience in social services and her ties to this community, which includes some of the county's poorest neighborhoods, give her an intrinsic understanding of the challenges faced in schools. In various volunteer roles she has witnessed how well-intended policy may not translate to results in the classroom, and she knows how to modernize government bureaucracies. Flowers supports the district's application to take over the federal Head Start program and sees it as a vital step toward improving student performance among lower-income populations. She is open to overhauling the district's health plans for employees and reducing its property holdings, and she has new ideas for increasing parent participation.

The three other candidates, Keisha Bell, 37; Corey Givens Jr., 20; and Cassandra Jackson, 52, all attended Pinellas schools. Jackson works at Thurgood Marshall Middle School as a paraprofessional. But none have the breadth of experience to match Flowers', and Givens misrepresented his education credentials.

For Pinellas County School Board District 7, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Rene Flowers.

This recommendation has been revised to reflect the following correction: Rene Flowers, a candidate for Pinellas County School Board District 7, is not a former day care operator. A recommendation published Tuesday was incorrect on that point.

Times recommends for Pinellas School Board 07/23/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 11:33am]
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