Times recommends stewart, long, santana for pinellas school board gas near me prices


It’s time for fresh faces and a new perspective on the Pinellas County School Board. The board failed to provide promised resources to help failing south St. Petersburg elementary schools until that became a public issue, and it too often follows superintendent Mike Grego’s direction without holding him accountable. The one countywide race and two North Pinellas district races on the Aug. 30 ballot feature qualified new faces and an opportunity to create a greater sense of urgency to improve the district’s struggling schools. School Board members serve four-year terms, and the races are nonpartisan.

There are several good candidates in this crowded race for an open countywide seat that has been held by Janet Clark, who did not seek re-election. Matt Stewart, a deputy director for the Hillsborough elections office, stands out for his enthusiasm, knowledge of the issues and personal experience.

Stewart, 36, is a Pinellas native who graduated from Largo High School and earned a doctorate in education. He has spent most of his career working at St. Petersburg College in the office of professional development, Pinellas County government and now as deputy director for human resources for the Hillsborough supervisor of elections. He and his husband are foster parents to a 13-year-old boy they hope to adopt.

Stewart, who also is an adjunct professor at SPC, has a sound understanding of the challenges facing Pinellas schools, suggesting that magnet programs are not a solution at schools where students lack basic math and reading skills. He wants schools to be more welcoming, starting with open houses and meetings at times that are convenient for working parents. Recognizing the trap many families feel — being zoned for a low-performing school but flummoxed by the lottery system for accessing magnets and fundamentals — he wants to see all schools perform better. As a human resources director, he says he sees firsthand the lack of qualified professionals in the local workforce. To that end, he favors expanding vocational programs in high schools.

Bill Dudley, 72, a retired high schoolteacher and coach, says his long teaching career and his eight years on the St. Petersburg City Council give him a broad perspective. He favors incentive pay for teachers who make a four- or five-year commitment to work in struggling schools. He also wants to expand career academies, the high school programs that prepare students for the workforce in fields like health care and engineering.

Joanne Lentino, 67, moved to St. Pete Beach in 2003 after a long career in the arts in Las Vegas. She taught for several years at Gulfport Elementary and has volunteered at Melrose Elementary. She said that when she addressed the School Board about student behavior in the classroom, there was no followup, and she wants the board to be more responsive.

Robert Beal, 45, is an SPC student and former military contract worker who has had a difficult time finding a good fit in the school system for his 14-year-old special needs daughter. While his personal story is wrenching, he is not prepared to be a School Board member.

Ken Peluso was elected two years ago to fill an unexpired term in this North Pinellas district, and he has done a credible job as he has focused on budget issues. But he lacks a sense of urgency in improving struggling elementary schools in south St. Petersburg, and he fails to recognize the angst of parents who don’t win the lottery to attend magnet or fundamental schools and are concerned about the quality of their assigned school. Veteran teacher Eileen Long shows a greater sense of urgency and commitment to engaging the entire community. She has the passion and energy to be an effective School Board member.

Long, 55, has a special education background and took on a tough assignment teaching middle school students at risk of dropping out. Her two children are in public school, and she is active in the teachers union. She wants board members to be better listeners and vows to spend time in schools, invite input from parents and teachers and be approachable. Her pledge to focus on schools that show signs of slipping is a good one — to intervene before C grades become D’s or F’s. Long says she will visit St. Petersburg’s struggling elementary schools to ensure they are progressing and take what’s working back to schools in her district.

Peluso, 59, a retired chiropractor, is proud of a policy he spearheaded ensuring the district keeps a portion of its revenue in reserve. He wants to expand magnet and vocational programs throughout the county. But he has not emerged as a leader on the board, rarely challenges the administration and too often focuses more on schools in his district than on issues in the rest of the county.

Carol Cook is seeking a fifth term on the School Board representing District 5, which covers midcounty. She faces two challengers: Eliseo Santana, a retired civilian supervisor with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, and real estate broker Mike Petruccelli. Cook acknowledges the board got "sidetracked" in allowing south St. Petersburg elementary schools to become failing schools but says progress is being made now. But she is among the incumbents responsible for that lapse, and it’s time for a fresh perspective. Santana offers a promising new vision.

Santana, 58, joined the Army at age 17 after graduating from his Massachusetts high school unprepared for the job market. A self-described juvenile delinquent, he says the military helped him find his way. He learned electronics in vocational school, which led to a 31-year career with the Sheriff’s Office. He is a native of Puerto Rico and married father of four whose children, now grown, went to Pinellas public schools.

The district’s response to fixing failing schools, he says, has been too top-down. He wants to see a cultural change that puts more emphasis on nurturing teachers and accommodating parents. Santana lives near the Greenwood section of Clearwater, an economically and racially diverse area. As a Spanish speaker, he is well-suited to help Hispanic families navigate the language and cultural barriers that can keep them from being more involved. As a vocational graduate himself, he wants to see those programs expanded and put to use in the district’s own buildings to save money.

Cook, 64, said she considered not seeking re-election but says board members are working well together. She wants to add more magnet programs and would consider enhancing transportation services so that more families can access them. She also favors expanding career academies into middle schools.

Santana has the energy, life experience and knowledge of the issues to help the school district become more aggressive in meeting its biggest challenges. The district covers the middle of the county, including Largo, Belleair, Safety Harbor and part of Clearwater. For Pinellas County School Board District 5, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Eliseo Santana.