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  1. Opinion

Times recommends: 4 for Hillsborough School Board

Times file photo The Tampa Bay Times makes its recommendations for the Hillsborough County School Board in the Aug. 28 primary election.
Published Jul. 27, 2018

The Hillsborough County School District faces enormous challenges in meeting its growth needs, stabilizing the budget and improving achievement at low-performing schools. With two open seats in the Aug. 28 election, the new board will need to restore public confidence in the school district and find the necessary resources for America's eighth-largest school system. School Board members serve four-year terms and are paid $44,443. The races are nonpartisan and open to all voters, and if no one receives more than half of the vote the top two finishers advance to the November election.

William Henry Person
District 1 (northwest county)

Former Hillsborough County schools administrator William Person came within 300 votes of winning a School Board seat in 2016. He was the best candidate then and now.

Person, 67, is a former high school teacher, principal and administrator who understands the value of public education but doesn't use it as an excuse for overlooking shortcomings in the schools. As the point person who managed the end of court-ordered desegregation efforts in Hillsborough, Person is keenly aware of the challenges many minority students face in low-performing schools. He would press state legislators to support increased funding for schools while working to steer more existing resources into the classrooms. His focus on students first would reinvigorate a board that needs to rediscover its core mission.

Steve Cona, 43, who heads a local contractors' association, says the district needs to work closer with private industry to meet the demand for careers in skilled trades. Gilbert "Gil" Machin, 68, a former housing and social services manager in Hillsborough County, would focus more on cost controls and on serving an increasingly diverse student population.

Person's depth, passion for improving the school system and ability to be effective from the start make him the best choice. For Hillsborough County School Board District 1, the Tampa Bay Times recommends William Henry Person.

Stacy Hahn | District 2 (south county)

Incumbent Sally Harris has lived up to expectations in her first term by being a cheerful, superficial voice on the seven-member board. Now's the time for competence and resolve if the district is to strengthen its unstable finances and turn around an embarrassing number of low-performing schools. Stacy Hahn seems much better suited to help improve the district's academic performance, public image and bottom line.

Hahn, 51, is a former teacher who has worked across a broad spectrum to raise professional teaching standards. She currently heads a program at the University of South Florida that seeks to ensure that teachers and administrators remain sharp through continuing education.

Hahn is clear-eyed about the challenges the district faces and the need for board members to be more engaged. She has the skills to analyze a budget and a plain-speaking style, and her strategy to improve low-performing schools is comprehensive. Hahn wants to change the culture to make any academic gains sustainable. She also recognizes the need to build stronger ties between the district and the community.

Harris had been in office only weeks before providing the swing vote in 2015 to terminate then-superintendent MaryEllen Elia. Though Elia had her faults, Harris should have spent the time to better assess the grievances against Elia and the implications of firing her. While that decision is history, it reflects Harris' questionable judgment and her lacking sense of public accountability. She hasn't counterbalanced that episode with any promising ideas going forward.

Rod Mayhew, 64, a Realtor, says he would bring a sharper management style but his agenda is vague.

Hahn's commitment to raise standards for education would also raise expectations of school leaders. For Hillsborough County School Board District 2, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Stacy Hahn.

Melissa Snively | District 4 (east county)

Melissa Snively's business sense and serious demeanor have served the district well, and she deserves another term.

Snively, 47, is completing her first term and has worked to stabilize the leadership change with a new superintendent and grapple with a financial crisis that has sapped public support for the district. A small business owner with four children in the public schools, she brings an exacting eye to spending. Yet she also is sensitive to protecting core elements of the district's academic mission.

Snively's focus on literacy in the early childhood years is the right strategy for raising high school graduation rates and improving lagging schools. She also is right that the district needs to regain public trust before asking voters for a tax increase. She wants to lobby the Legislature for more construction money and for the board to be creative in finding new revenue, such as looking to consolidate or sell under-utilized properties.

LaShonda Davison, 40, is running no obvious campaign. On social media, the events planner has called for "needed investments to our schools" and "supporting public school education." The district's challenges are too serious for voters to go with an unknown.

With at least two seats poised to turn over this year, Snively is in position to play a much more commanding role on the board. She should use the opportunity to build a new era for the district by improving its finances and image.

For Hillsborough County School Board District 4, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Melissa Snively.

Henry "Shake" Washington
District 6 (countywide)

It's a shame the most crowded School Board race doesn't offer more qualified choices. Henry "Shake" Washington's experience as a teacher, principal and top-rank administrator make him the strongest pick in this field.

Washington, 69, retired in 2017 after 42 years in the Hillsborough school system. He rose through the instructional ranks, serving as principal of several major high schools and later as a regional administrator. The Army veteran was known for his ability to surround himself with a talented and devoted staff; his ability to inspire should be a plus as the district prepares to take another stab at improving the learning environment at low-performing schools.

Scott "Mr. H" Hottenstein, 47, and Robert A. Pechacek, 37, are teachers in the district and first-time candidates. Both said they were driven by a desire to bring a classroom perspective to the board, and they share the concern that the district is too top-down and formulaic in addressing struggling students and schools. Their sentiments seem genuine but their solutions can be naive and unformed.

Karen Perez, 54, a social worker, and Mitchell Smithey, 45, a student nutrition manager for the district, are not running substantive campaigns. Kelso Tanner, 43, a part-time political consultant, hasn't given the issues enough thought.

Washington would need to avoid the tendency of many former district employees who win a board seat to act as an apologist for the district. For Hillsborough County School Board District 6, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Henry "Shake" Washington.

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