1. Gradebook

The things School Board candidates say…. on the campaign trail in Hillsborough (Part I)

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Published Jul. 17, 2018
Updated Jul. 17, 2018

They bashed the superintendent. They fretted about charter schools. One said the Hillsborough County School District should act like a carpet cleaning business when it comes to hiring teachers. Another blamed gender for the School Board's ongoing grudge fest – and that person was a woman and an incumbent.

In their interviews for an editorial board endorsement this election year, 10 of the 14 candidates shared their views with the Tampa Bay Times. This week we bring you some of their more memorable statements.

We begin with two of the three candidates running in District 1, which covers West Tampa, Town' N Country and the northwest suburbs. The third, Gil Machin, did not schedule an interview with the editorial board.

Come back later in the week to hear from the District 2, District 4 and District 6 hopefuls.

Steve Cona III, builders association executive

Steve Cona is running for Hillsborough County School Board [campaign photo]
Steve Cona is running for Hillsborough County School Board [campaign photo]

"I think we have a real opportunity in this election to get a clean slate of leadership on the School Board and I look forward to being part of the solutions to getting the school district right because I think we could be doing better."

"I'm not in this to be there for 12 years."

On charter schools:

"When the public school system is the best that it possibly can be, then parents will put their kids in the public schools."

"We're $1 billion in debt. We have to find the right mix to ensure that we're able to meet the growing demands of our district. We don't have money to build new schools. We just don't. We can't bond another project because we're so in debt and that is a problem… So how are you going to service South County? How are you going to do these things? You have to ensure that you have good relationships with the private sector to figure out a way to build schools where you have blind spots. We have to meet that need."

"You can't compete with them with a $1 billion dollars of debt. You just can't!"

On the school district's need to cut costs:

"As a construction guy, I know that our schools probably are not being maintained the way they should be maintained, and we are paying a lot of people really good money to maintain those schools internally. We might have to look at other options to make sure that we're competitive there, maybe outsourcing maintenance contracts."

On the maintenance needs:

"When my daughter comes home and says the air didn't work today in my school, that kind of stuff infuriates me."

On his idea to send students to Hillsborough County College for trades instruction instead of the district's adult technical schools:

"There's a technical school right next to Leto High School. Why isn't that HCC?"

On the low-achieving schools:

"There's no excuse for a D or F school in my opinion… It's great that we have all of these  'A' schools but we're only as strong as the weakest link in the chain and there's no reason in this community to have a 'D' or an 'F' school."

"I went to Chamberlain High School. Chamberlain High School used to be an A high school. I'm sad that it's like a C or a D now. That breaks my heart. It shouldn't be… I went to do a career fair there and my heart hurt a little bit."

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Bill Person, retired high school principal and district administrator 

School Board candidate Bill Person [MARLENE SOKOL | Times]
School Board candidate Bill Person [MARLENE SOKOL | Times]

On the firing of Superintendent MaryEllen Elia:

"The dogs caught the bus and they didn't know what to do with the bus… So we lost credibility with the community."

On his challenger, Steve Cona:

"He's young and wealthy and I'm old and poor."

On Republican-led efforts to privatize education:

"I say we've probably lost 40 percent of the field already. The key to this is with [longtime educators and] the Democratic Party. This blue wave, I believe in this blue wave… There are some great Democratic state reps and senators and Darryl Rouson, even though sometimes he says he likes vouchers. But we can make progress, that's how we're going to change it. Even if we have a Republican governor, which I hope we don't have, if we get the Senate and be able to make changes there, I think we can begin to turn this thing around."

"I wouldn't be here without a quality public education. [Without it] the kids who don't have anything now are truly going to have nothing and never have an opportunity to have anything. Because the  powers that be want the people of the wealthy to go to college and the rest of them go to hell, we don't care, plus they're Democrats anyway. And the minorities are Democrats, and the immigrants. Why would we want to do anything for anybody who's a Democrat? 'Cause all they're going to do is try to take us out of office. So they marginalize, completely marginalize public education."

"If we do nothing, which we've done a lot of nothing, they're going to privatize the public school system and they're going to wash their hands of their Constitutional responsibility to provide a free quality public education."

On the Achievement Schools initiative:

"I'm going to hold a padlock up and start turning it. I've had it for 10 years, I have no idea what the combination is. But I'm going to keep turning that thing, and trying to get the damn thing to work. That is exactly what the school district has done with the black community and low performing schools. Now it's Elevate, okay, now that doesn't work. Now we're priority schools, we're going to do this. Now we're going to start with nine [schools]. That didn't work, let's go to 51. But a board member doesn't want her high school to be listed on the achievement list. So she says, 'take my high school off,' so they take her high school off. Well, what the heck was that high school on there? What they're doing is, they keep spinning that dial and trying different combinations and they'll never open up that padlock."

On Superintendent Jeff Eakins:

"I'll pay homage to him on this issue about addressing these achievement schools. But overall he's the wrong man at the wrong time in the wrong place and he was not a strong administrator. He's light and he presents himself as a religious, righteous dude. But deep down inside, from what I have seen, he has difficulty telling the truth and being honest with the facts. He is not what he appears to be."