In Pinellas County, four school board positions are up for grabs, with several strong candidates in the races. The seven-member School Board oversees a $1.66 billion budget and more than 100,000 students. School Board races are non-partisan. If a candidate doesn’t win more than 50% of the vote in a district, the top two voter getters move to the Nov. 8 general election.
Districts 2 and 3 are countywide seats, while districts 6 and 7 are open to all registered voters in those communities. School Board members are paid $47,085 and are elected to four-year terms.
District 2 (countywide): Lisa Cane
Incumbent Lisa Cane narrowly won the election for District 2 in 2018. In the last 3½ years she has done enough to deserve a second term.
Cane, 35, is a Palm Harbor resident and a mother of four school-age children. She’s founder and creative director of The Tampa Bay Performing Arts Academy, where she has directed more than 40 children’s musical productions and taught more than 800 children. If reelected, she would like to bring more arts and music education to Pinellas schools, noting how they aid learning and could help narrow the achievement gap.
Her other priorities include bolstering technical and vocational programs to create more employment-ready graduates, and reversing policies that emphasize test scores and lead to the micromanaging of teachers.
Cane, who leans conservative, argued against mandatory student masking when kids returned to schools during the COVID crisis. She also signed Gov. Ron DeSantis’ 10-point pledge that included “keep woke gender ideology out of schools” and “reject the use of critical race theory in the curriculum.” While we don’t like how she got tangled up in so-called “anti-woke” issues, she has generally worked well with other board members and told the editorial board that “politics have no place in the classroom.”
Brad DeCorte, 65, is a first time candidate who spent the last 22 years teaching English language arts at Tarpon Springs Middle School. He also taught briefly in Pasco County. After high school, he joined the Navy and worked as a crewman in a helicopter squadron and was also trained as a search and rescue swimmer.
DeCorte, who has two adult children, would like to see more preschool programs and more mental health counselors in schools. He is a good communicator and had a keen grasp of the issues facing the school district. We think he would make a good school board member and would encourage him to run again if it doesn’t work out this time.
Bronson Oudshoff, 44, has declared that God told him to reclaim spiritual authority over Pinellas’ children. He signed DeSantis’ pledge and criticizes Cane for not being conservative enough.
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While we haven’t always agreed with Cane’s decisions over the last 3½ years, she has done enough to warrant another term. The Times recommends Lisa Cane for Pinellas School Board, District 2.
District 3 (countywide): Keesha Benson
Incumbent Nicole Carr dropped her reelection bid in December, opening up this district to a more competitive three-person race. Keesha Benson stands out as Carr’s best replacement.
Benson, 41, attended Pinellas County schools from kindergarten to 12th grade. She has a bachelor of science and a master’s in business administration from Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University, and a master’s and a doctorate in social work from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She’s a college professor who has also worked as the chief learning and evaluation officer for Foundation for a Healthy St. Pete and director of Thrive by Five, an early learning program in Pinellas County. She has three children in the Pinellas school system.
Her top priorities would be providing wraparound support for students including quality after-school programs, allowing educators to teach to the needs of students, and ensuring accessible early childhood, workforce and higher education preparation “that lead to social mobility and a living wage.”
Benson has a deep understanding of education policy, including how mental health services play an important role in schools. She has a history of successful collaboration, which is a plus for anyone who wants to join a seven-member board, at least anyone who wants to get anything done.
Carl Zimmermann, 71, spent 34 years in education, mostly at Countryside High School before retiring last year. He also spent two years as a Democratic state House representative from 2012-2014. He placed third when he ran for this seat in 2018. Zimmermann, the father of two grown children, would like to improve the “climate and operating conditions for staff and students” and help the district recover from losses suffered from the pandemic. He would like to make Pinellas public schools a preferred choice for parents and students, which would help prevent losing students to private schools and other schooling options. He would also like to reduce the pupil-to-teacher ratio, especially in low-performing schools.
Dawn Peters, 48, was an officer with her local parent teacher association when her two now college-age daughters were in school, one of several volunteer positions she held. She is an advocate of Gov. DeSantis’ education agenda and told the Times that schools need to leave it to parents to instill beliefs in their children.
The Times recommends Keesha Benson for Pinellas School Board, District 3.
District 6: Brian Martin
Three candidates are running to replace retiring School Board member Bill Dudley in this district, which represents south-central Pinellas County. Brian Martin would bring more pragmatism and less partisan politics to the board.
Martin, 37, is a chemical engineer and small business owner with four kids in public schools. He got into the race because he feels public education is mired in partisan political distractions. “Public education is supposed to be a bipartisan effort to improve the lives of our children and, in turn, our future community,” he told the editorial board. “School board members should not be beholden to any party or politician on either side.”
Martin believes in parent involvement in schools, though he said the idea that teachers are “indoctrinating” students is a political distraction. He wants to increase pay for teachers, especially experienced teachers who haven’t had significant raises. Martin also has experience with high-dollar projects, an asset on a board responsible for a $1.66 billion budget.
Stephanie Meyer, 40, ran for School Board two years ago, but lost to Laura Hine. Meyer teaches history part time at Keswick Christian School and at Hillsborough Community College. She previously worked in sales and marketing, including for Procter & Gamble. She has three children; her school-age son and daughter attend Keswick. Meyer is friendly and composed, but we worry that she could let irrelevant cultural politics influence her decision-making, something school boards need less of.
Kimberly Works, 51, is a Medicare case manager for an insurance company, who spent years volunteering in schools while her three now-adult children grew up. She seems genuinely committed to helping children, but she did not have the same grasp of the issues as the other two candidates, nor was she as strong at articulating her positions.
Martin lacks teaching experience, but that is not a prerequisite for a board that already includes lots of former teachers. School boards should be practical problem solvers. That perfectly sums up Martin’s approach. The Tampa Bay Times recommends Brian Martin for Pinellas School Board, District 6.
District 7: Caprice Edmond
Incumbent Caprice Edmond has grown into the job since taking over an open School Board seat vacated early by Rene Flowers, who ran successfully for county commission. We think Edmond deserves another term, a full four years this time.
Edmond, 34, has three degrees from the University of South Florida, including a master’s in elementary education. After joining the board, she also completed the voluntary program to become a Certified School Board Member, a rigorous program that helps members better understand the school system, including finance and personnel issues.
Edmond is a mother and was a guardian ad litem and a science coach at Fairmount Park Elementary. She’s a passionate advocate for children, who would like to improve reading programs for students who fall behind, incorporate more early learning strategies, and improve recruitment and retention of teachers and staff, which she said would help create more stability in schools.
The challenger in this race, Maria Solanki, criticizes Edmond for having worked at a “failing school,” referring to Fairmount Park. But Solanki provided little beyond surface level ideas on how to improve schools like Fairmount when she interviewed with the editorial board. She is a business owner who has also worked with orphans in India. Her top two priorities would be promoting school choice and providing nutritious meals. Why is she running? “While it may be comfortable to stay at home and complain, I am on this planet to serve the Lord,” she said.
Edmond is the clear choice in this district, which includes much of St. Petersburg and southeastern Pinellas. The Times recommends Caprice Edmond for Pinellas School Board, District 7.
The recommendation process
Before making a recommendation, the Times Editorial Board asks candidates to fill out questionnaires and sit for an interview. The process can also include running criminal and civil background checks, interviewing candidates’ colleagues and employers, reviewing voting records and financial disclosures and examining their past and current positions on relevant issues.
Candidates not recommended by the editorial board are offered an opportunity to reply. Judicial candidates may send replies of up to 150 words by 5 p.m. Aug. 4 to Editor of Editorials Graham Brink at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.