TAMPA — Steve Cona III spent just two years on the Hillsborough County School Board. In that short time he secured an International Baccalaureate program at Alonso High School, expanded dual-language programs in the elementary schools and was instrumental in chosing a new superintendent.
Despite those accomplishments, he lost his seat Tuesday to Nadia Combs, an educator and tutoring service operator who pledged to be more attuned to the needs of teachers and students.
“I’m just elated," said Combs, 50, with nearly two-thirds of the votes an hour after the polls closed. "I’ve been working so hard, and when I was out there today at the polls, I really felt good. And as hard as I’ve worked for the campaign, I will work even harder for the students.”
Cona posted a congratulatory message on Facebook and said, in an interview, “It’s been an honor to serve.”
Cona, 46, is president of the Florida Gulf Coast chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors. He won his seat on the board in 2018, when Susan Valdes left early to seek a seat in the Legislature. Their district is elected in northwestern Hillsborough, west Tampa and Town 'N Country.
He was the board’s strongest supporter of Addison Davis, who was selected this year to replace superintendent Jeff Eakins. His strong focus on efficiency and a balanced operating budget did not endear him to the teacher’s union, which gave its support to Combs.
Combs also benefited from thousands of dollars in contributions from the Democratic party, even though school board elections are nonpartisan.
She said she looks forward to working with other like-minded new members, including Jessica Vaughn, who won an open seat to represent the Carrollwood, Lutz and New Tampa suburbs.