TAMPA — Hillsborough County school boards hire and sometimes fire the superintendent. They approve annual budgets of $3 billion, sometimes in a matter of minutes.
Often a stepping stone for other offices, school boards tend to draw political neophytes. They also attract lifelong educators, and this year’s Hillsborough crowd is no exception on both counts.
It is an eclectic group who range in age from 30 to 75. Included are teachers and substitute teachers, corporate retirees, religious leaders, and a man who was banned from school board meetings after he made members uncomfortable with a public address.
This, as of Friday’s qualifying deadline, is the class of 2020.
District 1: West Tampa, Town 'N Country and the Northwest suburbs:
Steve Cona III, 45, is a two-year incumbent, having finished out Susan Valdes’s term when she ran for the legislature. Cona runs a construction industry organization. In his tenure on the board, he has called for more efficient business practices — including privatization, which offended the labor unions. He is a staunch supporter of the new superintendent, Addison Davis.
Challenging Cona are Nadia Combs, 50; Ben "Floridaman’ Greene, 30; and Bill Person, 69. Combs has experience as a classroom teacher and the owner of a tutoring business. Greene could not be reached at the listed phone number. He is the person who received a trespass notice in March of 2019, which kept him away from board meetings for a year. They are joined by Person, who retired after a long career in the district that culminated in high-level administrative positions at the end of court-ordered desegregation. This is Person’s third try for a school board seat.
District 3: North Hillsborough and New Tampa
Six candidates are trying to replace Cindy Stuart, the longest-serving board member and now a candidate for Hillsborough Clerk of Court. They are: Alexandra Gilmore, 39; Leo Haggerty, 67; Jennifer Rose Hill, 46; Mitch Thrower, 52; Jessica Vaughn, 42; and Rick Warrener, 75. Gilmore is a substitute teacher and fitness instructor. Haggerty is a teacher at Gaither High School and active in the teacher’s union. Hill is a teacher in the Pinellas County schools. Thrower is a certified public accountant for the Hillsborough Aviation Authority. Vaughn is a substitute teacher who is active in progressive Democratic politics and Rick Warrener is retired as a controller and chief financial officer.
District 5: Central Tampa, parts of North Tampa and Brandon
Tamara Shamburger, 45 and wrapping up her first full term with a strong focus on racial and economic equity, faces a group of challengers, some who have high profiles in Tampa: Elvis Piggott, 32; Selena Ward, 46; and Henry “Shake” Washington, 71. Piggott is a pastor who has been involved as a volunteer in schools serving some of Tampa’s most impoverished neighborhoods. Ward is a former high school teacher and current PTSA leader at Robinson High School. Washington retired after several decades in the school district, where he rose to a cabinet-level position under Superintendent Jeff Eakins. Washington ran for another countywide seat in 2018, but lost to Karen Perez.
District 7 is countywide.
The seat is now held by Lynn Gray, 68. A former teacher and distance runner, Gray has taken a strong stand against charter schools. She faces challenges from Sally Harris, 70; Jeffrey Alex James Johnson, 37; and Angela Schroden, 47. Harris served on the board from 2014 to 2018. She is also the owner of the Circle C ranch and child care center in South Tampa. Johnson, a newcomer among the candidates, is manager of neighborhood initiatives for the United Way Suncoast, and also a pastor. Schroden is an adjunct education professor who used to teach in the Hillsborough public schools.
Mail-in voting begins after July 9 for the Aug. 18 election. If any candidate in each of these races gets at least half the vote, the contests will be decided on that date. If not, the top two candidates go to a runoff election on Nov. 3. The job pays x$44,749 and the terms last four years.