Newcomers seek to topple incumbents in Pinellas School Board races

Published June 22 2018
Updated June 22 2018

Thirteen candidates will vie for four seats on the Pinellas County School Board this year, as the two hopefuls qualified just before Friday's noon deadline.

Three incumbents, including the board's leader and vice chair, aim to keep their seats amid a raft of external candidates, many of whom have recent classroom experience. The Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association has declined to endorse any incumbents, saying it wants representatives with a firsthand understanding of the challenges teachers face today.

In at-large District 2, incumbent Terry Krassner, a former district teacher and principal first elected in 2010, will face two newcomers. Lisa Nicole Cane works as creative director at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Academy and has led preschool and high school music and theater programs. Jeff Larsen — who, incidentally, filed his election paperwork way back in 2016 — teaches reading and coaches basketball at Gulf Middle School in Pasco County. Larsen picked up the PCTA endorsement.

Two other District 1 candidates withdrew in recent weeks: Emmanuel Swift, whose website describes him as an "educator, activist, civic leader and minister" and David H. Schneck, a math teacher at Seminole Middle School.

In District 3, another at-large race open to any Pinellas County voter, School Board vice chairwoman Peggy O'Shea faces two challengers with deep education resumes. O'Shea, who used to manage a commercial arbitration and mediation service, was first elected in 2006 and has spent years in public service, working on councils and coalitions devoted to early learning, health, commerce and more.

She faces Carl Zimmermann, a recently retired Countryside High School journalism teacher who also won PCTA's endorsement. Zimmermann served one term as north Pinellas's Democratic state representative from 2012 to 2014, focusing largely on education.

The competitive district's third candidate is Nicole Carr, an educational specialist who has taught at all levels. Locally, she has worked as a school counselor, going on to become a Title I research specialist, the district's accountability coordinator, and finally an assistant principal at Lakewood Elementary.

District 6, which encompasses parts of Largo, Pinellas Park, Seminole and the south Gulf beaches, is the sole race without an incumbent after longtime board member Linda Lerner announced this summer she was stepping down.

Lerner and a few other board members have backed Matt Stewart, a human resources manager for Hillsborough County and an adjunct ethics professor at St. Petersburg College.

The PCTA has backed Lorena Grizzle, an exceptional student education teacher of 14 years. She has worked at a number of local elementary schools, including High Point, Bauder and M.K. Rawlings, and is now in her second year at Dunedin High School as an autism teacher.

The district's third challenger is Bill Dudley, a former St. Petersburg City Council member and a retired high school teacher and coach who spent 38 years at Northeast High School.

Both Stewart and Dudley sought a school board seat last election.

District 7's race is the most crowded, and likely a tough competition against board chairwoman Rene Flowers, elected in 2012. It's also a district that covers the neediest swath of the county, with poor schools and high poverty rates in St. Petersburg's Midtown area and other neighborhoods.

Flowers is another former St. Petersburg City Council member. She has worked in employee training and customer service, also holding roles on many local boards, and has picked up a number of high-profile endorsements.

Competing with Flowers are Nicholas Wright, who teaches technology at Lealman Innovation Academy, Tharius Keith Bethel, and Bilan Joseph, an English teacher with experience at elementary, middle and high school levels, as well as in public, private and charter schools in Florida.

Bethel and Joseph both qualified on Friday. Shyla Sams, who filed election paperwork, did not qualify.

School board candidates will appear on the August 28 primary ballot, and early voting will be held from August 18 to 26. If no candidate wins a majority, then the top two advance to a runoff election.

The last day to register to vote in the primary is July 30.