The Hillsborough County School Board faces immediate challenges, from stabilizing its finances and investing in school facilities to confronting racial disparities in student discipline and achievement. These races are nonpartisan. Board members are elected to four-year terms.Tamara ShamburgerDistrict 5 (central Tampa)The winner of this seat will need to improve the quality of the school system in an area already struggling with poverty, unemployment and other social problems. Tamara Shamburger is uniquely suited to bring the right attention to the district and the right priorities to a difficult task.Shamburger, 41, an insurance adjuster, is knowledgeable and frank about the challenges facing this district. She would invest more in early childhood programs, find ways to recruit and support more experienced teachers and look for creative ways to address cultural disparities that contribute to the racial gap in discipline and achievement. She would work to bring more money to area schools and to expand mentoring programs so that students have better role models and higher expectations.Joe Jordan-Robinson, 62, an engineer and longtime activist, understands the district and also is focused on minority performance. But he is a polarizing figure who too often seeks to be the center of attention. His confrontational style is the last thing the district needs as the public schools work to broaden their base of support.Shamburger is confident and assertive, clear-eyed about the hurdles many families face and genuinely driven to move the schools in the right direction. She could work effectively with other board members and raise the profile of schools in central Tampa. For Hillsborough County School Board District 5, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Tamara Shamburger.Cathy JamesDistrict 7 (countywide)The two candidates in this race were the most qualified in the eight-person primary and advanced to the Nov. 8 ballot. Cathy James distinguishes herself with her clear agenda for improving the school system, attention to detail and strong relationships with both the public schools and the private sector.James, 57, finance manager for Hillsborough County's main homeless services agency, has a firm grasp of education policy and a rounded perspective on the school system that is well-suited for this countywide seat. She would seek new incentives for attracting quality teachers to struggling, inner-city schools. She wants a more pro-active strategy for dealing with student discipline and lagging academic performance, tighter oversight of the budget and a transition plan now that the district is moving away from the mixed experience of the Gates Foundation teacher improvement effort.Lynn Gray, 64, a longtime teacher in Tampa-area public and private schools, knows the issues and has a broad agenda — strengthening early childhood, career and wellness programs and bringing more attention to the needs of individual schools. She also fully understands the diversity of the nation's eighth-largest school system.James, though, brings more of an executive-level mind-set to the job. Her work with parent-teacher organizations gives her a real picture of what's happening in the school environment, and she is firm in declaring that all schools must be treated equally. Her calm demeanor and plain way of speaking would be a plus on a board that is navigating through complex and hot-button issues involving money and race.For Hillsborough County School Board District 7, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Cathy James.