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Hillsborough board needs to get its message out, chairwoman says

As superintendent of the Hillsborough County school district, MaryEllen Elia is one of the highest-profile administrators in Florida. She makes news.

But what about the democratically elected School Board that oversees Elia and her staff?

At a workshop Tuesday, chairwoman April Griffin said she wants to see the board get more recognition for its role in overseeing the nation's eighth largest school district.

"There are opportunities for staff to put their message out to the public, to our employees," Griffin said. "But there's no way that we have been able to get the board's message out."

At budget time, "staff does an amazing job of implementing the board's agenda," she said. "But it is the board's agenda. So it would be nice to let employees know, just as the superintendent does with certain things, what we are trying to do to protect them."

Another example she offered later: In discussions about the Gates-funded Empowering Effective Teachers, board members can help teachers understand the thinking behind the $200-million project.

Griffin said she is not the only board member who has these concerns. The solution might be as simple as issuing letters signed by both Elia and the board. Or the district website could be tweaked so constituents are invited to communicate with their board members.

There was some discussion about whether School Board business is political. It is, Griffin said. It's nonpartisan. But it is very political. In fact, both Griffin and member Stacy White are running for the Hillsborough County Commission in 2014.

Member Doretha Edgecomb cautioned:"I want to be careful that it doesn't become PR for individual board members." And member Carol Kurdell said that while getting elected might be political, once a candidate takes office, he or she should be all about the job and the children.

Griffin said personal exposure was the last thing on her mind. "I've had this conversation multiple times," going back at least five years. "This is not about getting my name out there, but getting the board out there."

When it comes to her commission campaign, "The bottom line is this: I can get my message out personally."