CLEARWATER -- Because of a number of issues including parental rights, reaction to the COVID pandemic and mask rules, curriculum, "woke" teaching, and school library books, there is more attention to school board races than usual in Florida this year.
Over the next few days, we'll post interviews with School Board candidates in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties leading up to the August 23rd primary. If there are just two candidates, the August 23rd vote will decide the race. If there are more than two candidates and no one reaches 50 percent, the contest goes to the general election in November. School board contests are nonpartisan and open to all voters.
We start by focusing on the District 3 school board race in Pinellas County. The candidates are Keesha Benson PhD, a mother and career educator; Dawn Peters, a mother, business person and volunteer; and Carl Zimmerman, a teacher, father, grandfather and former member of the state Legislature.
Dr. Benson is a sixth-generation resident of Florida and Pinellas County. She has been a college professor for over a decade, has three elementary-age children who attend Pinellas schools and has a history of social work. She says generational mobility means having access to a quality education. She says Pinellas County's booming real estate market is affecting education, as parents and teachers struggle to find housing and pay bills. She wants to find ways to use school resources to help families with food and housing. Benson says Pinellas schools failed to adjust resources when busing ended. Benson argues that equity is not a zero-sum game, but a consideration that every child has different needs and equity means meeting those needs so that all of those children can thrive.
Peters was an apartment property manager for 15 years and became a stay at home mom for her two daughters, both of whom went to Pinellas County Schools. She also served as a volunteer and preschool substitute teacher, as well as a certified mentor. "I was in school one to three days a week... and I loved it," Peters said. She says that when remote learning took hold during the early days of the pandemic, she gained insights into what and how her children were taught. Her concerns about transparency, and the ban on volunteering during COVID, brought her to school board meetings and motivated her to run.
Zimmerman has taught as a classroom teacher in Pinellas County for more than 30 years, including a media program that has sent many graduates to jobs with major organizations. He says his experience as a legislator taught him to understand that school administrators should adhere to the letter of the law. As long as they do that, he says, the district should be able to cope with the dozens of new laws related to education passed by the Legislature over the past couple of years.
Here more from all three candidates as we interview each for our Beyond the News podcast below: