Pinellas County School Board member Carol Cook is running for a fifth term and has a challenger in the 2016 election.
Eliseo Santana Jr., a 57-year-old retired communications maintenance supervisor at the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, filed his election paperwork earlier this week. The Clearwater father of four and a grandfather of 10 — all of whom attended Pinellas County schools — said he was inspired by the Tampa Bay Times' "Failure Factories" series, which documented the struggles of five failing south St. Petersburg schools as well as black students across the district.
"What is happening now in these schools is unacceptable," he said. "The people who are responsible and on the helm for 15 years need to be replaced."
Santana has never run for public office nor does he have a background in education — something he deems an asset to his campaign. He says his focus is on creating an efficient system that advocates for teachers and strays from excessive emphasis on testing.
Cook was first notified by the county supervisor of elections that a candidate had filed to run for her seat, which covers the central portion of the county, encompassing parts of Clearwater and Largo.
She soon received several phone calls from friends and supporters about her opponent.
"It got me motivated," she said.
Cook, who was first elected in 2000, filed her paperwork to run for a fifth time on Friday. She said she didn't know anything about her opponent beyond his name.
She said her platform remains focused on parental involvement and navigating the public school system.
"People know what I am willing to do, what I'm capable of doing," she said. "Let them best decide who's going to best represent them."
In addition to Cook's District 5 seat, two other School Board races will be on the 2016 ballot. In September, board member Ken Peluso was the first to file for reelection. He represents District 4, which covers north county areas, including Tarpon Springs, East Lake and Palm Harbor. School Board member Janet Clark has yet to file for reelection for her at-large District 1 seat.
Colleen Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8643. Twitter: @Colleen Wright.