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Conflict erupts on placid board
Two new Hillsborough School Board members are rewriting the system's unwritten rules.
By LETITIA STEIN, Times Staff Writer
Published September 1, 2007
TAMPA - Even before the conflict on the Hillsborough School Board erupted several days ago, it was clear something was amiss.
Two elected officials were breaking the unwritten rules.
Newcomers April Griffin and Susan Valdes, who are close friends, kept surprising the staff with pointed comments at public meetings. They raised questions during the appointment of a principal, traditionally a time for congratulations and celebration.
They did not seem interested in becoming fluent in the culture of the school system.
The result: an open rupture on a body known for its collegial style. The flash point came in an argument Tuesday, when board member Jennifer Faliero called for Griffin's resignation. Griffin stormed out.
The outburst was shocking for an elected body that long has placed a premium on playing nice.
Until recently, only insiders saw the tensions brewing on the School Board. Then came superintendent MaryEllen Elia's evaluation almost two weeks ago.
Griffin and Valdes gave Elia low marks, in sharp contrast to the rest. Several members seemed alarmed. They asked to air their differences at a workshop.
But tensions flared within the first hour of the session, shortly after a presentation on the "five dysfunctions of a team."
The group began to rehash whether Griffin and Valdes were appropriately sensitive with the timing of their comments during a principal appointment.
Board member Candy Olson, a 13-year veteran, noted that meetings are a "well orchestrated play at the point that we appoint a principal."
The system leaves little to chance.
Board agendas come out a week in advance. Members "pull" the items they have questions about, then have private discussions with appropriate officials.
The morning before the meeting, board chairman Jack Lamb meets with the superintendent's top officers for an event known as the "agenda review."
They go over items likely to come up for discussion.
Such teamwork is pushed by their state and national leadership groups.
Griffin thinks it may be time to change the rules. She says she was elected as an outsider. She thinks voters wanted her to bring a fresh perspective to the nation's eighth-largest school system.
"I'm willing to work with my fellow board members," she said. "But I'm not willing to be bullied into doing things their way."