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A Times Editorial

TIMES RECOMMENDS: Nicholson for School Board


© St. Petersburg Times
published September 1, 2002

If you compared Sandra Nicholson's style as a public servant to the style of an automobile, she'd be a station wagon. Nothing extraordinary or flashy; just modest, comfortable and reliable.

And those are qualities most voters should find appealing about the incumbent Hernando County School Board member, and the primary reason we recommend Nicholson in the race for the District 5 seat.

Nicholson, of Brooksville, is seeking her third four-year term on the board. She is being challenged by Ridge Manor resident Alan Minthorn, a biology teacher at Springstead High School. Unlike the District 1 School Board race, which has four candidates in contention, this one-on-one, nonpartisan race certainly will be decided on Sept. 10.

After getting off to a plodding start during her first term on the board, where she sometimes seemed overwhelmed by certain aspects of the job, Nicholson grew more capable during her second term. Chairing the five-member board one year gave her an opportunity to demonstrate previously undetected organizational and leadership abilities.

As one of several veteran board members, Nicholson has settled into a self-assigned role of scrutinizing the district's construction projects and spending. She also was one of the leading proponents of the district's reading initiative, which is aimed at identifying and helping students whose reading skills are deficient. Encouraged by that progress, Nicholson now advocates a similar program in mathematics.

Nicholson is a fiscal conservative who zeros in on administrative salaries and perks. Her willingness to question such expenditures by the superintendent speaks to her growing independence. It also means Nicholson frequently finds herself dissenting from the board majority and, unlike other members who tend to acquiesce when they anticipate defeat, she still makes her point by voting no.

It is unfortunate that Nicholson did not express such doubts about the financial management of the district's being in such a state of confusion for the past 18 months. She, along with the majority of board members and former Superintendent John Sanders, couldn't account for several million dollars of taxpayers' money for several months. But because they played it safe and made mid-year cutbacks, they emerged with only their credibility in deficit.

To her credit, Nicholson recently admitted that the district was in a very real financial crisis and that she should have been more skeptical of the information she was provided by the administration. She also is willing to accept her share of the blame for not holding the superintendent and finance officer accountable for those mistakes, and has vowed to become more involved in the budgeting process. That admission sets her apart from board members who continue to deny the existence of a problem.

Beyond her official duties, Nicholson's commitment to the community is beyond reproach. Before being elected to the board in 1994, she volunteered for a host of civic, fraternal and youth organizations. She remains committed to a few, but her duties as a board member and as president of the Florida School Boards Small District Council command most of her time now. That breadth of involvement has given her a valuable grass-roots perspective, one that her opponent, Minthorn, simply can't match.

Minthorn is a solid candidate, but he has lived in the county less than five years. As a teacher, his focus is on making positive changes in the classroom. But it also has limited his platform. His interests are on curriculum, student discipline and raising teachers' pay. All are worthy pursuits, but he is short on details of how to pay for those improvements.

Minthorn is informed about many issues other than education, and he's also motivated toward public service beyond the School Board. His top-notch communication skills and determination combine to make his pursuit of higher office promising.

We don't always agree with Nicholson's votes, and we are not always certain she is as informed as she could be. The same could be said about elected officials here, in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. But we are convinced that Nicholson is doing her unpretentious best to represent the needs of all residents and their children.

With trust that she will follow through on her promise to be a better steward of taxpayers' money, we recommend voters return Nicholson to another term on the School Board.

Opportunity to reply

Candidates who are not recommended by the Times editorial board are invited to respond. Replies should be no longer than 250 words and must be received by 4 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 4. Deliver to 161 E Jefferson St., Brooksville, FL 34601, or fax to: (352) 754-6133, or e-mail as a text-only file to hernando@sptimes.com.

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