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School Board members trade barbs

Besides the back-and-forth between Mary Russell and Nancy Bostock, candidates touch on several issues.

Published August 25, 2006

LARGO - In their last major encounter before the Sept. 5 election, candidates for Pinellas School Board on Thursday squared off over employee morale, desegregation, the board's relationship to the superintendent and several other topics.

Though the campaign forum was often marked by similar answers, current board members Mary Russell and Nancy Bostock aimed a few pointed remarks at each other.

Bostock referred indirectly to Russell as one of three board members who focused excessively on small details of district budgets.

Russell took Bostock to task for an expensive reading program called "Read 180" that has long been improperly administered, according to a report this week.

Bostock, who was elected to the board in 1998, had "eight long years" to prevent the problems, said Russell, who was elected in 2002.

Whereas Bostock said the board should work as a team to set policy, Russell said problems with Read 180 show that the board has operated "without checks and balances and no mechanism for personal responsibility."

Bostock did not respond about the reading program during the forum, but later said Russell had pushed to retain a similarly flawed Early Success Program for struggling first-grade readers.

Chris Hardman, the third candidate in the District 2 at-large race and a teacher, did not attend the forum because of a school open house.

About 80 people witnessed the forum at the Gus A. Stavros Institute in Largo. It was sponsored by the Pinellas County Council of PTAs.

The five candidates in the at-large District 3 race were asked how desegregation would work after the choice plan's race ratios expire next year.

Marti Folwell called the issue a real conundrum. She said magnet schools are the district's best hope for maintaining racial diversity.

Lew Williams also championed magnet schools but was pessimistic about the district's ability to maintain racial diversity. "Quite frankly, our schools are going to become more racially identifiable," Williams said.

Peggy O'Shea said her experience on the district's choice reform task force has convinced her parents of all races want their children in schools close to home. The question, she said, is whether the district can provide a quality education at all schools.

Anne Scofield said school clusters across the county would give all families access to quality schools and allow parents to be more connected to their children's schools.

But Sean O'Flannery questioned the need for diversity. "The simple thing is I believe in neighborhood schools," he said. "Why are we busing students five schools away to (conduct) a social experiment?"

Asked how they would improve teacher morale, several candidates in the south county District 7 race said it was a question of respect.

"We need to value teacher input," Jennifer Crockett said. "We need to value their opinions."

Crockett, Mary Brown and Ray Tampa agreed the district should offer incentives for teachers who work in high-poverty schools.

"Up-county, they don't work as hard in some respects as down-county," Tampa said.

Minetha Morris said the district needs put teacher suggestions into practice. "We need to get back to listening," she said.

Sheldon Schwartz said morale suffers when the board undercuts the superintendent's authority. He said he would draw a bright line between the responsibilities of the board and the superintendent.

The candidates in the midcounty District 6 race were asked what single aspect of the school system they would like to see improved over the next five years.

Veteran board member Linda Lerner said she would focus on improving vocational education. Pinellas does a good job educating its college-bound students, she said, but needs to give more options to students who aren't college bound.

District 6 challenger Jack Killingsworth said he would like to focus on science or math, but identified reading as the top priority. The other challenger, Carl Neumann, said "I think it's important that we motivate children to want to read."

[Last modified August 25, 2006, 07:22:15]

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