Times recommends: Larsen, O’Shea, Stewart for Pinellas schools

Published October 9
Updated October 16

Voters will elect at least two new members to the Pinellas School Board, with incumbent Linda Lerner not seeking re-election and incumbent Terry Krassner failing to make the run-off. There are two countywide seats and one district seat on the Nov. 6 ballot, and there are strong candidates in each race. School Board members are paid $44,163 and serve four-year terms. The races are nonpartisan and open to all voters.

Jeff Larsen

District 2, countywide

With experience in both elected office and the classroom, Jeff Larsen stands ready to bring fresh leadership to the School Board.

Larsen, 41, who captured 46 percent of the vote and finished first in a three-way August primary, is a former Tarpon Springs City commissioner. He teaches intensive reading in Pasco County and would cut back to part-time if elected. He wants to reduce the district’s focus on testing and improve transparency. Raising teacher pay and improving the climate in schools would be top priorities aimed at empowering teachers with more autonomy and professional respect.

Lisa Cane, 31, owns a performing arts academy in Palm Harbor and has children in public schools. She thinks the district is failing to provide strong arts and music education, which provide building blocks for other learning. Putting renewed emphasis on those subjects, she says, would raise scores in areas such as reading and math and help narrow the achievement gap. Cane also wants a return to core courses such as geography and civics.

Larsen has clear and wide-ranging priorities for improving Pinellas schools. As a former city commissioner, he knows how to work collaboratively to accomplish them. For Pinellas County School Board District 2, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Jeff Larsen.

Peggy O’Shea

District 3, countywide

Incumbent Peggy O’Shea brings important assets to a board that will have at least two new members: experience and institutional knowledge. She is seeking a fourth and final term and would help maintain stability as the district works to overcome long-running challenges while meeting the evolving needs of today’s students.

O’Shea, 68, of Oldsmar has years of insights on Pinellas’ efforts to close the achievement gap and help struggling schools. She is also fully engaged in the work of developing technical and career programs that turn out work-ready graduates. She understands the important role that businesses and other community partners play in the district’s success, and she keeps a close eye on the district’s finances.

Nicole Carr, 47, of St. Petersburg brings impressive credentials and work experience in her first run for office. She has been an administrator for the district, a school counselor and an assistant principal at one of St. Petersburg’s struggling elementary schools and holds advanced degrees in education. She thinks there is too much testing mandated by the district and questions how teachers are evaluated. Carr is well-informed, but she has bounced from job to job and tends to veer into education lingo and theory.

O’Shea is a practical board member who has served the district well and deserves to be re-elected. For Pinellas County School Board District 3, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Peggy O’Shea.

Matt Stewart

District 6

Matt Stewart is making his second run for School Board after losing in a runoff in 2016. Voters in District 6, which includes northeast St. Petersburg and south Pinellas beaches, should not miss another opportunity to add him to the board.

Stewart, 38, is human resources manager for Hillsborough County government. He is well-versed in the issues facing Pinellas schools and has clear ideas for making positive changes. He wants to better monitor the progress of minority students to continue closing the achievement gap, and he wants to strengthen business partnerships to ensure students graduate ready for career or college. He also wants to refocus support for neighborhood schools, which is needed amid the district’s elaborate system of magnet and fundamental programs. A young professional who as a foster parents has had kids in the school system, Stewart would be a forward-thinking addition to the board.

Bill Dudley, 74, is a retired high school teacher and coach who served two terms on the St. Petersburg City Council. Dudley has worthwhile ideas about improving the busing system by utilizing public transit, and he wants to expand vocational programs. But overall his vision is narrow and out of date, such as his insistence on a strict attendance policy that would not be workable.

Stewart is the stronger choice to succeed the retiring Linda Lerner. For Pinellas County School Board District 6, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Matt Stewart.

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