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HILLSBOROUGH SCH BD 1

Betting on experience: Janice Torgersen is a retired Tampa Bay educator with three decades' experience. Susan Valdes is a health care clinic manager with business and budget know-how.

MELANIE AVE
Published October 26, 2004

A retired educator and a health care clinic manager will square off in the race to replace a longtime School Board member in the West Tampa District 1 race.

After getting the most votes in a four-candidate runoff, Janice Torgersen, 66, and Susan Valdes, 39, will battle it out to replace Glenn Barrington, 81. He is retiring after representing for 16 years the district with the largest number of Hispanic voters.

Both candidates say their experience, as parents and as working women, gives them an edge.

Torgersen, a first-time political candidate, points to her knowledge of the school system as a Hillsborough and Pinellas educator for three decades. She began her teaching career at Brandon High School in 1970 and retired last year after working for two decades in career education and dropout prevention programs in Hillsborough.

"While every one of us has gone through school, it doesn't mean we understand education," she said.

Torgersen, who has two grown sons, said education "is what I do and what I love."

If elected, Torgersen said, she will be an advocate for improving teacher salaries and getting money for programs serving exceptional, at-risk, gifted, adult, and technical and career education students. And she wants to reduce the ongoing achievement gap between white and black students.

She also would like to improve partnerships with other government agencies such as the city and county to stretch school funding by combining more schools with parks and libraries.

Valdes, who has a son in eighth grade at Pierce Middle School and another in 12th grade at Leto High School, is making her third bid for office. She ran unsuccessfully for the School Board in 1996 and the County Commission in 2002.

As manager of St. Joseph's Community Care Clinic, Valdes said she would bring a business perspective to the seven-member board. She has learned in health care, as is often the case in education, to do more with less money.

She said her goal would be to prevent cuts from affecting the classroom. "That's where we should be cutting the least," Valdes said.

Valdes said she wants to expand after-school care, combat student obesity by having more recess and curb the number of dropouts through earlier intervention, especially with those who quit school after failing the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

Valdes said she worries about the number of Hispanic and Latino students quitting school.

"The goal is to get them graduated and help them have a productive life," she said. "When you promote education, you're also promoting economic development."

The county's teachers union, the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, has not endorsed a candidate in District 1.

"We don't think we can lose with that race," said executive director Yvonne Lyons.

THE CANDIDATES

JANICE J. TORGERSEN, 66, is a retired Tampa Bay educator who works part-time as a consultant to the Hillsborough County School District. Torgersen, married with two grown sons, grew up in West Tampa and lives near Egypt Lake. She received a bachelor's degree in social science education and a master's degree in administration and supervision from USF. She also earned a doctorate in educational leadership from Nova Southeastern University. She began her teaching career at Brandon High School in 1970. Over the past two decades, she worked with school-based dropout prevention programs and with the district's technical, career and adult education programs. She retired in August but remains a part-time consultant for CARIBE, the refugee assistance program. She was president of Hillsborough Technical, Career and Adult Educators and state president of Adult and Community Educators of Florida. ASSETS: Home, land, investments, bank account. LIABILITIES: Car payment, credit union loan. SOURCE OF INCOME: Pension, part-time pay from school district, Social Security. WEB SITE: www.votetorgersen.com

SUSAN VALDES, 39, is a health care clinic manager who has lived in Tampa since 1975. She was born in New York City, is married and has three children, including two sons in Hillsborough public schools. She has been involved with the PTA. She ran for School Board in 1996 but lost, and ran unsuccessfully in 2002 as a Democrat against County Commissioner Jim Norman. She attended Hillsborough Community College and studied education. She is a member of Community Action Board. ASSETS: Home, two '90s-model Ford vans, resort time share. LIABILITIES: Credit union loan, home mortgage, time share payment. SOURCE OF INCOME: Clinic salary.

THE JOB

School Board races are nonpartisan and the terms are four years. The seven-member board generally meets every other week to set policy for the district. The job pays $37,426 a year. District 1 covers West Tampa.
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