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Growth dominates school board debate

Candidates for the District 6 countywide seat were questioned by voters. Their main concern: how to educate effectively in a booming area.

By MELIA BOWIE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 11, 2002

CROSS CREEK -- They asked about class sizes, new schools near busy roads and a lack of resources.

But more than anything, parents and panelists at Thursday's Hillsborough County School Board debate wanted to know how the schools will handle the area's explosive growth.

Sponsored by the New Tampa Community Council and hosted by the League of Women Voters, the forum at Benito Middle School provided guests a chance to quiz the candidates for the District 6 countywide seat.

Carolyn Bricklemyer, 55 and an eight-year incumbent, is being challenged by Melissa Hernandez, -- a 35-year-old parent and substitute teacher. Also running for the position is Lynn Isaacson, 34, a corporate trainer, sales manager and singer. All three seek to establish credibility in these booming suburbs, although none of them lives in New Tampa and some made that apparent in their remarks.

"It's very simple, I love my children," Isaacson said. "I love the children in our community and as a parent I'm very concerned with what's happening."

Hernandez suggested reducing student-teacher ratios by putting aides in the classrooms. But as for expanding the schools, she said, "there are some schools that literally don't have the space to build additional classrooms. We'd literally be pouring cement on playgrounds."

New constructions was a frequent topic among panelists who questioned the wisdom of building a new elementary school across from Wharton High School and near congested Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.

While Isaacson suggested the board work better with community developers on school placement, Bricklemyer noted New Tampa's quick growth. "We're not done building schools out here," she said. "The land is just hard to come by, so when it's offered by a development we take it." That's especially true when sellers raise their prices, anticipating the school district will want their land for a new school.

Hernandez proposed going after smaller lots to build smaller schools -- an effort she said would encourage administrators to know their students, encourage discipline and enhance neighborhood involvement.

All three candidates favored the FCAT test as a diagnostic tool, although Isaacson said it should not be "the end all."

When asked how to avoid cutting programs and how to solve a shortage of teaching materials in schools, Bricklemyer noted the board recently increased the district's supply budget. But Isaacson and Hernandez criticized waste.

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