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All three Hillsborough School Board races head to runoffs

Terry Kemple running for Hillsborough County School Board at Bell Shoals Baptist Church a polling place on Election Day 8/26/14.
Published Aug. 27, 2014

TAMPA — All three Hillsborough County School Board contests appear headed to runoffs with no one — including incumbent and former Chairwoman April Griffin — getting a majority in Tuesday's primary.

In South Tampa's District 2 race, longtime school volunteer Michelle Shimberg will likely face preschool owner Sally Harris, who squeaked past Michael Weston, a former high school teacher.

In eastern Hillsborough, insurance agent Melissa Snive­ly came close to an outright victory, but with just under half the total vote she heads to the Nov. 4 general election against Christian conservative activist Terry Kemple.

The countywide District 6 race pits Griffin against lawyer Dipa Shah. Despite eight years of experience and a high profile, Griffin captured fewer than a third of the votes cast in the eight-way race.

Shah, who raised more money than any of the other 13 candidates in the three races, barely edged out Paula Meckley and Stacy Hahn for second place.

The other four members of the seven-member board do not face re-election until 2016.

District 2

Shimberg, 52, enjoys the support of political and business leaders, many with long-standing relationships with her prominent family.

A longtime PTA leader who also held leadership roles in nonprofit organizations and the School District's citizens advisory committee, she's also endorsed by the Hillsborough teachers union.

But Harris, 64, said Tuesday that she has more experience than Shimberg. She's served in many of the same organizations, taught school and ran an early-childhood center that she still owns.

Harris said she looks forward to proving her qualifications in the coming months. She hopes she will get votes in the general election from Weston supporters.

"It's an awesome opportunity and I want to make the best of it," she said.

District 4

The race in eastern Hillsborough's District 4 pits Snively, 44, against 67-year-old Kemple, who is well-known for controversial positions he has taken on gay rights and Muslim advocacy.

While his views clash with mainstream educators, Kemple contends they are in line with many constituents.

He has campaigned hard against the national Common Core movement. Snively, similarly, has criticized Common Core and the version adopted by the state, the Florida Standards.

A third candidate, Dee Prether, took more than one in 10 votes.

Snively acknowledged Tuesday that she had hoped to win outright. But, as she came close, she said, "we were very pleased. We'll just have to get out there and work hard, do what we need to do."

Kemple said he will work harder on fundraising to get his message out. While he wants voters to be able to differentiate between his positions and Snively's, he does not intend to go negative. "I'm about me and not about anybody else," he said.

District 6

The countywide contest in District 6 was the most eventful of the three.

Griffin, 45, said at first she would not run. Instead, she filed to run for Hillsborough County Commission. She withdrew from that race, saying she was leaving politics altogether. But, moved by several controversies over the district's transportation department, she changed her mind.

Seven candidates opposed her, including a college student and one of the founders of the U.S. Green Party.

Griffin is known for her efforts this year to correct problems in the school district's bus system. But she is also known for her heated battles with superintendent MaryEllen Elia, and many of her opponents said they wanted to bring more congeniality to the board and the district.

Shah, 43, in interviews and candidate surveys, walked a fine line between noting the district's shortcomings and calling for more harmony on the board.

The voting results were so close Tuesday that she hesitated to discuss her upcoming race against Griffin.

"If it is me, and I hold second place and I'm running against April, I will continue to run on my passion and commitment to the children," she said. "I have the qualifications, credentials and experience to really be a strong advocate for children, families and teachers."

Griffin said she was not concerned that she got less than 30 percent of the total vote.

"It's about what we expected," she said. "There were people out there raising $100,000, people who had television commercials and billboards."

What's more, she said, "there's always an anti-incumbent vote."

Griffin said she faced some strong opponents and "I am looking forward to serving with at least some of them in the future."

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or sokol@tampabay.com. Follow @marlenesokol.

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