Liberal! Permissive! Fuzzy on the issues!
Those are just a few of the charges the candidates for the District 2 seat on the School Board have lobbed at each other during the campaign.
Republican Warren Andrews of Belleair, a former Largo mayor, came out swinging, claiming his opponent, Democratic incumbent Linda Lerner, is permissive and ineffective. He has even used the dreaded "L" word.
"I'm conservative and she's an archliberal," Andrews said. "That's it: She's a liberal and I'm a conservative."
Lerner has responded by accusing Andrews of distorting her record. She also swung back, saying that he talks in vague generalizations and has not put much thought or study into his proposals.
"I wish that someone would give us a real debate," Lerner said, "because so far I have not heard a real discussion of the issues and priorities he has and the way he's going to pay for them."
Methods of campaigning have even come under attack. Andrews has been known to sing a politically correct version of the song School Days. About that, Lerner commented: "Mr. Andrews not only sings, but dances around the issues."
By contrast, the candidates for the at-large School Board seat have run a quiet race, supporting the same side of many issues.
"I think the School Board member's got to be flexible and willing to go where the people are," said Republican Lucile Casey, a former School Board member from Clearwater who is trying to return to the board.
"I think it all comes down to, I'm really in touch with these people," said Mayme Hodges, a former teacher from Clearwater. "I'm one of the gang. That's good to be in touch."
Andrews, who is retired but works as a substitute teacher, has leveled several allegations against Lerner. He says she is too soft on kids who break the rules in school, doesn't persuade other board members to vote with her on her proposals and is out of touch with what is going on in the classroom.
Lerner, who considers the School Board post her full-time job, says those statements are untrue. She accuses Andrews of twisting her record and sidestepping the real issues.
"I just question his broad generalizations not based on specifics," Lerner said.
"I want to discuss the issues and the ideas he has to make the schools better. . . . I think if Mr. Andrews is truly observant of not only me but the whole board, he would get beyond his vague, negative generalizations."
Among his claims, Andrews says, "she has voted, for instance, to not expel kids for carrying guns in class because they are emotionally deprived."
Lerner said she supports strong action when students are found with guns. She notes that law prohibits exceptional-education students from being expelled if their misbehavior is caused by their handicap.
"That is outlandish that he would ever say that," Lerner said. "I absolutely have no idea what he's talking about. That's beyond a distortion. That's a falsehood."
Andrews says Lerner is the only person who voted against a more-than-30-day suspension for a teacher who had pleaded no contest to possession of marijuana.
Lerner said the original recommendation was to fire the teacher, but a majority of the School Board decided not to do that. In the end, the decision was how to punish him. The board voted to place him on unpaid suspension for a year. Lerner and John Sanguinett voted against that.
Lerner said she was against the two-semester suspension because the teacher already had been without pay for three or four months at the time of the hearing. In addition, he had an above average record up to then, she said.
But that vote does not make her permissive, she said. "There have been times I have called for stricter discipline" than recommended by Superintendent Howard Hinesley.
One of those times, she said, was for a teacher whose license had been suspended for drunken driving. The teacher also had failed to disclose that she had been charged with driving without a license. Hinesley had asked for a one-day suspension. Lerner said that was too lenient.
Andrews says Lerner "surprised me" by voting once against increased reading requirements.
Lerner said she has always supported strong academics. Lerner said when the board tried to decrease reading requirements in middle school, she objected.
"He is totally wrong on that issue," she said.
Andrews said, "She argued strenuously for the abolition of valedictorians and salutatorians."
"He's right, I have spoken up against it," Lerner said.
The point difference between valedictorians, salutatorians and other honor students can be a hundredth of a percent in some cases. Because of that, she said, some students won't take difficult courses because they don't want to damage their average.
The best thing, Lerner said, is to recognize honor and high honor graduates, rather than have students in fierce competition for hundredths of a point.
Andrews says an example of Lerner's ineffectiveness is her failure to persuade other board members to meet at night. If elected, Andrews says, "I will in a few months" see that there are night meetings.
Lerner scoffs at that, saying Andrews doesn't seem to understand that there are six others on the School Board, so no one person has a lot of power. Also, she said, those other six people all have opinions of their own.
The best way to deal with that, she said, is to persist in things that are important.
"I'm patient," Lerner said.
Hodges, 64, and Casey, 52, both strongly support public participation in the schools and school-based decision making.
The collaboration between the community and schools is the best prevention schools have against problems, said Hodges.
Casey agrees. Florida will not be getting a windfall any time soon, she said, so it is necessary to have business partnerships and volunteers to help schools accomplish their jobs.
They try to distinguish themselves from each other by their experience.
Hodges, for example, talks about her 34 years' teaching experience as well as her time on the Clearwater City Commission.
Casey also touts her teaching experience, saying the fact that she is now a teacher gives her a better understanding of the problems faced by teachers and parents. She also points to her previous service on the School Board.