In Pinellas County, two School Board positions remain up for grabs. Incumbents Lisa Cane and Caprice Edmond were reelected for another term after winning more than 50% of the votes in the August primary. That leaves voters to decide the fate of District 3, which is countywide, and District 6, which includes a swath of mid-county and the Pinellas’ southern beach communities. The seven-member School Board oversees a $1.66 billion budget and more than 100,000 students. School Board races are non-partisan. Election Day is Nov. 8.
District 3 (countywide): Keesha Benson
Benson is the best of the two remaining candidates to represent the county. She narrowly won the three-way primary in August, garnering 40.1% of the vote. In the general election, she faces Dawn Peters, who captured 38%. Karl Zimmerman placed third and was knocked out of the running.
Benson, 42, 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.
Benson won the Times’ recommendation in the primary. Her endorsements include St. Pete Mayor Ken Welch, Clearwater councilmember Kathleen Beckman, St. Petersburg councilmember Copley Gerdes, the Service Employees International Union, Pinellas Parents Advocating for Public Schools, the Pinellas Realtor Organization, Ruth’s List and the Sun Coast Police Benevolent Association.
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Benson is up against Dawn Peters, 48, who 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. Ron DeSantis’ education agenda and told the Times that schools need to leave it to parents to instill beliefs in their children. She is endorsed by Pinellas County commissioner Kathleen Peters, Seminole Mayor Leslie Waters, Oldsmar Mayor Dan Saracki and Moms for Liberty, among others.
The winner replaces incumbent Nicole Carr, who dropped her reelection bid in December.
The Times recommends Keesha Benson for Pinellas School Board, District 3.
District 6: Brian Martin
Martin placed second in the primary — and remains an underdog ― but he is best suited to work with the other School Board members and lead the district. He’s smart, pragmatic and far less partisan than his opponent, all pluses when it comes to an efficiently run School 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.
His opponent, Stephanie Meyer, 40, ran for School Board two years ago, but lost to Laura Hine. Meyer captured 47.4% of the vote in the primary, compared to 39.1% for Martin. Kimberly Works placed a distant third.
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 still worry that she could let irrelevant cultural politics influence her decision-making, something school boards need less of.
The winner replaces retiring School Board member Bill Dudley.
The Times recommends Brian Martin for Pinellas School Board, District 6.
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.