In Pinellas County, there are several strong candidates spread across three races to join the School Board that oversees more than 15,000 employees, a $1.5 billion budget and more than 100,000 students. The races are non-partisan. District 1 is a countywide seat, while Districts 4 and 7 are open to all registered voters in those communities. The seven School Board members are paid $44,708 and generally serve four-year terms, unless a member resigns early.
If no candidate receives a majority in the Aug. 18 primary, the top two vote-getters will face off in the Nov. 3 general election.
District 1 (countywide) — Laura Hine
Laura Hine stands out as the best candidate for District 1, held by Joanne Lentino, who decided not to run for re-election.
Hine, 45, would bring executive leadership experience and a common-sense approach to the board. She’s never been a classroom teacher, but she has a keen grasp of the major issues facing Pinellas schools. One of her top priorities is to ensure teachers, schools and communities have room to make needed changes. “While meant for improvement in outcomes, the focus on restrictions and measurements over the recent 30 years have come at a cost, and that cost is love of teaching, love of learning and the localized agility required to meet and raise all students,” she told the Times.
She was the founding president and director of the Friends of North Shore Elementary Inc., created in 2015 to help improve the struggling public school in northeast St. Petersburg. As president of the school’s parent teacher association, she helped create a vibrant after-school program and a program to provide a $300 professional development budget for each teacher.
Hine, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who has an MBA from the University of South Florida, was the project director of the $65 million, 132,000 square foot facility that now houses the James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art, which opened in 2018 in downtown St. Petersburg. She became the executive director of the museum last year.
Tom Topping, 52, is a former Pinellas County teacher and basketball coach, who also spent a few years in administrative and technical support roles in Pinellas and Pasco counties. Now a corporate trainer and business coach, Topping speaks authoritatively about improving teacher training and closing the achievement gap.
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Stephanie Meyer, 38, had a long career in sales and marketing, including at Procter & Gamble, before recently “falling in love with teaching” at private Keswick Christian School in St. Petersburg. She believes in school choice, saying that charter and private schools “are not the enemy” and would like to “end teaching revisionist history and focus on facts and primary sources.”
Hine brings a potent mix of intelligence and life experience combined with a track record of getting things done. The Tampa Bay Times recommends Laura Hine for Pinellas County School Board District 1.
District 4 (north county) — Eileen Long
Eileen Long, 59, is the incumbent and deserves a second term. She wants to focus on the mental health needs of students, which could help close the achievement gap by putting students in a better position to learn. To that end, she also wants to try small group training sessions for parents — online or in-person, when it’s safe — to ensure they have a basic understanding of the technology their children are using, including $21 million in new laptops and tablets the district recently approved.
Long remains a strong advocate for faculty and staff and won the endorsement of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, as she did four years ago when she was first elected. And she has some sensible ideas for balancing safety and learning during the coronavirus crisis, including requiring children to wear masks when they come to school.
Chris Hardman, 67, is a teacher who ran for school board in 2006, 2008 and 2016. His priorities include improving pay for all teachers and examining high school start times. He has raised very little money other than the $2,000 he contributed to his own campaign.
For Pinellas School Board District 4, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Eileen Long.
Distinct 7 (south county) — Karl Nurse
This was a difficult choice in a field that includes several strong or experienced candidates to replace Rene Flowers, who decided to run for Pinellas County Commission. Karl Nurse, 65, has the business experience and outsider’s perspective that the School Board needs. He is best known for the 10 years he spent on the St. Petersburg City Council, where he was a reasonable and smart voice, much needed as the city clawed its way out of the Great Recession. He developed a reputation for turning ideas into action.
Nurse owns a successful printing business with nearly 50 employees and has been actively involved in the community for decades, including with the Council of Neighborhood Associations, the city Planning Commission and the Living Green Expo. He’s a current board member of the local Habitat for Humanity branch and is a strong advocate for more affordable housing options.
Like Hine, Nurse lacks teaching experience, but his business acumen and political experience will be valuable as the School Board navigates through difficult financial times. He would push for programs that help struggling kids catch up by the third grade. He also wants schools to better prepare kids who aren’t headed to college by incorporating more apprenticeships and real-world internships. He says he’s humble enough to know that he won’t understand everything about what it’s like to be a teacher. “I bring other needed skills to the table,” he said.
Caprice Edmond, 32, is an impressive first-time candidate, a science coach at Fairmount Park Elementary who won the union backing of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association. She has worked as guardian ad litem and speaks passionately about bettering children’s lives inside and outside the classroom. Should would like the School Board to devote more resources to support mental health and wrap-around services that help students stay in school and on track.
Sharon Jackson, 68, is a retired principal who also worked as a special education teacher and counselor. She would bring decades of educational experience and a firm grasp of the major issues facing Pinellas County schools.
Corey Givens Jr., 28, works for the Pinellas County Job Corps. He has an abundance of energy and would like the school system to provide more opportunities for kids to intern and perform community service. He also thinks the School Board could use a member who is young enough to really remember what it’s like to be a student. He ran unsuccessfully for School Board in 2012 and for City Council in 2017.
Electing Nurse would leave the School Board without any Black representation (Flowers was the only African American on the board). That would be unfortunate given that Black voters make up about 20 percent of eligible voters in District 7, and that Black students make up about 19 percent of the county’s student body. But Nurse has represented this district well in the past and would be the most effective going forward. The Tampa Bay Times recommends Karl Nurse for Pinellas County School Board in District 7.
Recommendations are made by the Editorial Board of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news