1. Florida Politics

Voters return April Griffin, critic of Hillsborough superintendent, to School Board

Published Nov. 5, 2014

TAMPA — One of the Hillsborough County school superintendent's biggest critics was returned to the School Board in Tuesday's election along with two new members including one who has criticized her on the campaign trail.

April Griffin, 45, won her third four-year term with a nearly 2-1 lead against challenger Dipa Shah, 43, in a countywide race.

In eastern Hillsborough's District 4, insurance agent Melissa Snively, 44, defeated Terry Kemple, a 68-year-old conservative Christian activist.

Preschool owner Sally Harris, 64, narrowly bested volunteer Michelle Shimberg, 52, in South Tampa's District 2. A critic of the Common Core teaching movement, Harris campaigned against excessive testing and for more creativity in the classroom.

"I'm in shock," Harris said as she celebrated with friends and family at a pizza restaurant in South Tampa. "I always said I'm a well-kept secret."

Shimberg had the teachers union endorsement and raised $148,000 compared with Harris' $28,000. But unlike Shimberg, Harris called for change, and she believes voters responded.

"I think they heard me, and I gave them hope," she said.

Kemple, in his third bid for a School Board seat, also capitalized on backlash to the Common Core, which is known locally as the Florida Standards.

But voters went for the more moderate Snively, who is active in business organizations.

Snively could not be reached for comment after the vote. Kemple said: "God's got some other plan. I don't know what it is. But I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing."

The contest between Griffin and Shah in District 6 was the most heated.

Long a critic of superintendent MaryEllen Elia, Griffin ran on her record of holding the administration accountable.

Shah released an attack ad that portrayed Griffin as a toddler having a temper tantrum. Shah also shattered fundraising records, with $155,000 in contributions.

Nonetheless, Griffin said she was not surprised at her wide victory margin.

"I'm happy," she said. "I ran a campaign by standing on my record. I didn't go negative. I didn't accept soft money to go negative. I am really proud that I ran the race I ran, and the people spoke."

Tuesday's results leave Elia with a board in which three of seven members — Griffin, Cindy Stuart and Susan Valdes, who will soon become chairwoman — are prone to challenging her.

Harris, similarly, has criticized Elia on the campaign trail. She said Tuesday that it is too soon to predict what their relationship will be like.

"I will definitely look at it all very closely," she said.

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


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