The stakes have rarely been higher for the Hillsborough County School Board, which is implementing new state education standards, re-examining teacher evaluations and overhauling a seriously troubled transportation department. The races are nonpartisan and open to all voters in the Nov. 4 general election.
Michelle Popp Shimberg
District 2, south county
This race features two candidates with longtime commitments to public education.
Michelle Popp Shimberg has devoted more than 20 years to educational leadership roles, including an 18-year stint on the School Board's Citizen Advisory Committee. Shimberg, 52, supports Florida's new education standards, vocational training for students and closing the achievement gap.
Sally A. Harris, 64, is making her second run for a board seat. Harris worked as an occupational specialist in public schools before opening preschools in Tampa. A small business owner and former PTA president, Harris wants to beef up educational offerings in the early grades and balance the push for more Advanced Placement classes with increased vocational offerings.
Harris sees herself as a one-term School Board member, a strategy that could undermine her effectiveness. Shimberg appears ready to ramp up her commitment to public education for the long haul, a necessity for a board that faces serious challenges and cannot afford to be in a continuous mode of waiting for new members to get up to speed.
For Hillsborough County School Board District 2, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Michelle Popp Shimberg.
District 4, east county
A seasoned business professional and civic leader, Melissa Snively is the best choice in this race.
Snively, 44, has run her own insurance agency for 13 years. She understands budgeting, finance and managing a diverse workforce. She also is a former chairwoman of the Brandon Chamber of Commerce and a leader in variety of community service groups, demonstrating that she works well with others to achieve results.
Terry Kemple, 68, is a well-known conservative Christian activist. He has twice made unsuccessful runs for School Board and grabbed headlines for being on the wrong side of a number of issues, including protesting Muslim speakers in schools. A member of Hillsborough County's Diversity Advisory Council, Kemple touts his ability to work with people who have varying viewpoints. But his actions routinely promote division.
The School Board cannot afford to become bogged down with the disruptive sideshow antics Kemple would likely display. Snively is well-informed and would bring a diverse skill set to the board.
For Hillsborough County School Board District 4, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Melissa Snively.
District 6, countywide
School Board member April Griffin has had high-profile disagreements with the superintendent. But she is still an effective board member with a firm grasp of policy issues and the steel to help navigate rocky terrain.
Griffin, 45, has championed several important issues that otherwise would have been ignored, including overhauling the transportation department and emphasizing vocational training.
Dipa Shah, 43, is a lawyer who aims to be a listening ear for disgruntled teachers and an understaffed transportation department. Shah also wants to monitor the implementation of the Florida Standards and promote better communication between the district and parents.
Shah's enthusiasm would serve the board well as it tackles tough issues. But she is not particularly well-versed on education policy and is no match for the experience and results that Griffin brings to the table.
If she is re-elected, Griffin should follow through on her commitments to shore up the transportation department, examine the teacher evaluation process and hold the Office of Professional Standards more accountable. Properly channeled, Griffin's passion for children is an asset. She should take care to conduct herself professionally.
For Hillsborough County School Board District 6, the Tampa Bay Times recommends April Griffin.
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The Tampa Bay Times offers candidates not recommended by the editorial board an opportunity to reply. Candidates for Hillsborough County School Board should send their replies no later than 5 p.m. Thursday 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.