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For better Pinellas schools

Pinellas County is lucky to have a strong public school system, and voters have the chance to elect School Board members in the Nov. 6 election who will maintain the system's high standards and guide the schools to even greater ones. Setting the scene for such forward movement is new leadership. Former Assistant Superintendent Howard Hinesley stepped into office this fall to take up where retiring Superintendent Scott Rose left off after so capably serving Pinellas students and their families. Hinesley's experience and vision are already shaping Pinellas County education in positive ways.

In September, voters made an excellent choice for the School Board in Lee Benjamin, a veteran educator and administrator. He defeated board member Lonna Field in the District 1 Republican primary and has no opposition in the general election. He will add depth to the School Board as it faces the challenges of a school system heading into the 21st century.

Now, voters countywide are being asked to round out the leadership team by choosing two more School Board members, for the District 2 and at-large seats. That is a significant and exciting responsibility, one that will have critical impact on the future of Pinellas County.

Lerner: an advocate for children

Linda Lerner has spent a lot of time trying to make a difference for Pinellas County students and their education.

She was a persistent advocate for a ban on corporal punishment, which the School Board finally passed this year. She serves on the School Board's Biracial Advisory Committee, which was formed to help schools be more sensitive to racial issues. She believes adamantly that the way to help children succeed is to change society's mindset so that prevention and early intervention become priorities. Start with good prenatal care, she says, and a child will have a better chance. Once children reach the school system, she continues, schools should be able to recognize the kids with problems and get them help as soon as possible.

As a member of the Pinellas County School Board, Lerner would base her decisions on these sound values, as well as on her extensive experience in child advocacy, community activity and professional work.

She is chairwoman of the Pinellas County Human Services Coalition Advocacy Team and the Pinellas Task Force on Offender Re-entry. She has served as a member of the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council Human Resources Committee. She was a candidate for the Florida House of Representatives in 1986 and is active in the Pinellas County Democratic Party. She serves on the boards of the Family Service Centers, the Pinellas Chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews and the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club. She holds a master's degree in special education, has taught emotionally disturbed children and is former director of educational support services at FACE Learning Center, a counseling and resource center for women.

Lerner's close observation of the School Board supplies her with knowledge that will make her an effective board member. She supports having School Board meetings in the evenings, a smart idea that would allow more parents, teachers and community members to participate. She favors full-service schools, a progressive way to reach at-risk students and their families. She respects the integrity of the court order that desegregated schools.

Lerner's opponent, Republican Bruce McDowell, is a businessman whose ideas are cause for concern. He cautions that full-service schools might get in the way of educational "basics," and supports the teaching of creationism. He said he would leave the court order alone, but only until there wasadditional federal money flowing into the state.

Lerner would be a far more effective School Board member. We strongly recommend her to voters.

Sanguinett: caring about families

Families are not as they used to be. As executive director of the Exchange Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse, John Sanguinett knows this well. His organization serves families that are at risk for child abuse, providing counseling and support that will dissolve abusive situations and give children and adults the chance for brighter futures.

Growing up in such complex family environments affects the way children learn, and therefore the way schools must respond to their needs. Sanguinett, who served as director of children's services for the Pinellas Association for Retarded Children before taking the helm at the Exchange Center, understands how schools should adjust their roles to keep up with the factors shaping families today.

It follows that he is a strong advocate of full-service schools, which would coordinate a variety of social and medical services for entire families. He believes schools should incorporate the teaching of parenting skills into curriculums, so that students are better prepared to care for the next generation. He emphasizes the need for a stronger link between schools, businesses, social services and parents, and favors allowing more involvement of teachers and parents in school decision-making. He comprehends how these efforts, plus improving vocational and technical programs and positive discipline alternatives, will reduce the dropout rate.

Sanguinett's professional experience indicates a sense of caring for children and the community that would be valuable on the Pinellas County School Board, and it is matched by his civic background. He has served on the Juvenile Welfare Board's Youth Services Advisory Committees, including as the executive committee's chairman, and on the Health and Rehabilitative Services District V Child Abuse Prevention Task Force. He is a member of the Exchange Club of St. Petersburg and has been active with the Community Camping Council and Pinellas Trails Inc. He has been a volunteer with several Pinellas County schools.

The other candidate for the at-large School Board seat is former board member Frank Pesuth. Pesuth was a capable board member during his two terms, but his actions during this campaign have been disappointing. He removed himself from a conflict of interest concerning a business relationship with board member Ron Walker, but only after it made the news. He launched a last-minute attack on his Republican primary opponent that was unfitting for a School Board campaign. He has taken far-right positions favoring the teaching of creationism and opposing school health clinics.

Sanguinett would offer a fresh approach to putting children and their education first. We enthusiastically urge voters to let him serve on the School Board.

Races at a glance

Offices: Two Pinellas School Board seats will be filled Nov. 6.

Term: Four years.

Salary: About $21,900.

Candidates: District 2 seat (voted countywide): Republican Bruce H. McDowell and Democrat Linda Lerner. (The incumbent, John Espey, was defeated in the primary.) At-Large seat (voted countywide): Republican Frank X. Pesuth and Democrat John Sanguinett. (The incumbent, Robert L. Moore, was defeated in the primary.)

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