The Pinellas County School District is embracing new strategies for addressing the achievement gap, plans new magnet schools and is investing in its teachers. The district has stabilized under superintendent Mike Grego, but too many students are reading below grade level, money remains tight and the new Florida Standards will be tough to implement. The School Board races are nonpartisan, and at least three will be decided on Aug. 26. If no one wins a majority of the vote in District 4, the top two finishers will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot.
District 2, countywide
Incumbent Terry Krassner was among the most consistent critics of former superintendent Julie Janssen and pushed to remove her. Then she rightly insisted the board conduct a national search for a permanent replacement that led to Mike Grego's hire in 2012. Her instincts were right and her leadership was strong.
Krassner, 62, worked as an elementary and middle school teacher and later as a principal. She understands what broad policies mean for individual schools in areas ranging from school resource officers to class sizes. She wants the district to use fewer standardized tests, particularly amid the potentially tough transition to the new Florida Standards.
Chris Tauchnitz, 46, is an engineer and public school parent well-versed in district and state education policy who advocates for more fundamental schools and parental involvement. But his narrow agenda lacks vision for addressing the district's broader challenges.
For Pinellas County School Board District 2, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Terry Krassner.
District 3, countywide
Peggy O'Shea has been a steady hand over her often-tumultuous eight years on the School Board. Her no-nonsense approach and understanding of how to pursue real change makes her deserving of a third term.
O'Shea, 64, supports the district's pilot teacher evaluation system that could be a big improvement. She has pushed for more career education in high schools and better attendance policies. And she is clear-eyed about the challenges facing the district, particularly in south Pinellas, where too many elementary students in poor neighborhoods are not reading at grade level. She supports intervention in those failing schools now as well as adding more magnets in hopes of spurring voluntary integration.
Kent Curtis, 47, a former Eckerd College assistant professor now teaching at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, has an impressive volunteer record in Pinellas schools. He founded the Edible Peace Patch Project after implementing a garden plot at Lakewood Elementary, a low-performing St. Petersburg school where his children attended. He offers energy and enthusiasm, but he has not made the case for replacing O'Shea.
For Pinellas County Schools District 3, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Peggy O'Shea.
District 4, North Pinellas
Ken Peluso lost to incumbent School Board member Robin Wikle six years ago and seeks the seat again with Wikle resigning halfway through her second term. He is the best choice among three candidates in this race.
Peluso, 57, is retired from his chiropractor practice and has a long history of civic engagement in Palm Harbor and beyond. He has served on local and statewide early learning boards, which oversee prekindergarten programs, and recently completed a stint on the school board for the private Calvary Christian High School. Peluso appreciates the difference between public and private education. He is well-versed in state education policy, appreciates the district's role in monitoring publicly financed charter schools and says the district's low-performing schools are his top priority.
Beverley Billiris, 66, is the former mayor of Tarpon Springs who retired this year as an elementary teacher from a Title I school. She says the district could increase parental participation by finding a way to allow parents with nonviolent felony convictions to participate in school activities. Billiris was a capable mayor, but she can be parochial and impatient with colleagues in public meetings.
John Nygren, 70, is an experienced educator now working under contract for the school district coaching teachers. His campaign appears more motivated by specific personnel decisions in the district rather than a broader vision.
For Pinellas County School Board District 4, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Ken Peluso.
District 6, South Pinellas
Linda Lerner is a six-term incumbent with a countywide reputation for her being engaged, from her frequent visits to public schools to her enthusiasm for making sure all students receive a quality education. She remains the best choice to represent this south Pinellas district.
Lerner, 71, says her values and issues have not changed since she was first elected in 1990. She is a dependable champion for openness, pushing for the board's members to do their work in regularly noticed workshops. She wants the district to recommit to the arts and music in all its schools, reduce the number of standardized tests and emphasize more direct instruction in small groups. Maureen Ahern, 54, is a former journalist who supports superintendent Mike Grego's efforts to improve low-performing schools and add vocational options. The first-time candidate says the community should be more involved, sounds skeptical about adding more magnets and would create more fundamental schools until the entire demand is met. That is unrealistic and the wrong direction.
Ahern, the wife of Republican state Rep. Larry Ahern, diagnoses the district's issues with low achievement. But she offers few specifics on how to improve beyond more discipline, dress codes and a focus on basic subjects. And her campaign has received contributions from several conservative political committees outside Pinellas.
Voters have two distinct choices in this race, and only one has a proven track record. For Pinellas County School Board District 6, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Linda Lerner.
Candidate replies: The Tampa Bay Times offers candidates not recommended by the editorial board an opportunity to reply. Candidates for Pinellas County 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.