The Hillsborough County School Board faces a host of challenges, from cutting racial disparities in student discipline and achievement to putting the district's finances on solid footing. Four seats are on the Aug. 30 ballot. Board members serve four-year terms, and the races are nonpartisan. In races where no candidate wins more than half of the vote, the top two finishers advance to the November election.
District 1 (Northwest county)
Incumbent Susan Valdes has brought important issues to the forefront since first being elected in 2004. She is a strong voice for minorities, vocational training and school equity. But Valdes, 51, has become too embroiled in the politics of governing and has lost sight of the bigger picture.
Bill Person, 65, is a retired school administrator and has a much more focused agenda for turning around troubled schools. A former teacher and principal, he appreciates the need to offer students paths to both college and career training. As the point person who managed the end of court-ordered desegregation efforts in Hillsborough, Person knows what it takes to provide equal education opportunities across the entire district. He speaks movingly about the need for a more aggressive strategy to help minority students. He has put minorities first in his career, and his institutional history would help the district as it struggles to fulfill the promise of an integrated school system.
For Hillsborough County School Board District 1, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Bill Person.
District 3 (North county)
Cindy Stuart brought valuable business experience and a fresh perspective as a school volunteer to the board after first winning election in 2012. She has the best interests of students at heart, and she deserves another term.
Stuart, 49, is clear-minded about the district's challenge in improving low-performing schools. She wants to focus more resources on the root causes of weak learning environments, and she wants the district to intervene earlier with students who are at-risk of falling back. Stuart takes the job seriously and does her homework, visiting campuses to see what's working and what's not. She is a good listener who seeks community input, and her work ethic is unmatched.
Alicia Toler, 35, worked in the hospitality industry. She has solid ideas for making the schools more efficient and accountable. But Stuart already brings a sense of independence and an exacting eye. She gets her facts straight, works at a professional level and doesn't allow politics to cloud her judgment.
For Hillsborough County School Board District 3, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Cindy Stuart.
District 5 (central Tampa)
Many of Tampa's poorest neighborhoods are located in the central city area of District 5, and the School Board faces no greater challenge than to improve the academics and learning environment in this area's struggling schools.
Tamara Shamburger has a good feel for the district, and her commitment to neighborhood schools is the sort of confidence-builder the public school system needs. The 41-year-old insurance adjuster doesn't mince words about the district's problems, the unique challenges minorities face or the slow pace of progress in the nation's eighth-largest school system. Shamburger wants more resources for District 5 and a more focused strategy to boost minority achievement. Her no-nonsense nature, confidence and plain-speaking style is a breath of fresh air that could bring this area much-needed attention.
Joe Jordon-Robinson, 62, an engineer, activist and longtime office-seeker, seems too self-centered and polarizing to be effective. Lynette Tracee Judge, 51, a school social worker, would focus on early-childhood efforts. Jacqueline Coffie Leeks, 47, who works with community groups in the central city, has strong local ties. Tarance LeNoir, 45, a former middle school teacher, says the major problem in District 5 is a lack of resources.
Shamburger offers solutions, which sets her apart from her opponents. And she seems the most inclined to reach out and build coalitions, which is vital in this divided political climate. For Hillsborough County School Board District 5, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Tamara Shamburger.
District 7 (Countywide)
With eight candidates in this race, voters need to focus on the very few who could actually make a contribution. Cathy James is the most promising candidate.
James, 57, is the finance manager for Hillsborough County's main homeless services agency. She is a first-time candidate who was spurred to run after the district announced it faced a financial crisis last year. James brings an attention to detail the board and the administration sorely need. She is well versed in education policy, knows the state of both urban and suburban schools in the district and has creative ideas for getting parents, civic groups and private businesses more involved in the system.
Alan Clendenin, a 57-year-old retired air traffic controller, is a longtime Democratic activist. His ideas for leveling the playing field in school spending and for making the bureaucracy more responsive reflect sound policies for a countywide board member. His ability to think strategically would raise the board's game.
Lynn Gray, 64, a longtime teacher in Tampa-area public and private schools, has a firm grasp of educational issues and is rightly focused on the basics, from improving literacy in the younger grades to fostering more discipline in the classroom.
The remaining candidates don't have as much to offer. Norene Copeland Miller, 62, would focus on early childhood programs, but she is too open to the involvement of faith-based groups. Randy Toler, 60, has a technology background that could bring some order to the district's planning efforts, but he has a narrow agenda. Stanley G. Gray, 60, a military retiree with a business background, doesn't exhibit any serious grasp of the district or the issues. Joseph P. Caetano, 82, and Carlos Frontela, 42, have not offered substantive policy proposals.
James' calm, confidence and common sense could move the board in a smarter direction. For Hillsborough County School Board District 7, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Cathy James.