April Griffin says she has not changed her mind about leaving the Hillsborough County School Board after three terms that at times have been tumultuous, rancorous but never, ever dull.
“No looking back,” she said.
Even though she won’t be running for re-election this fall, Griffin wants her supporters to know she is throwing her full support behind Karen Perez, a late entry into the District 6 countywide race.
“I’m supporting her because, in my opinion, she is the most qualified candidate of the six (who are running),” Griffin said. “She is educated, smart, compassionate, strong, and she will fight for those kids like they were her own.
“She is a steady, focused person. But she is also a mama bear.”
Perez, a Democrat, ran in 2006 for State Representative but was beaten by Ed Homan 56-43 percent in the general election. She lists a background in clinical social work and mental health, which is another reason Griffin backs her.
“That is a vital issue in the schools today,” Griffin said. “One of the biggest obstacles kids face to success is the mental health issue. She will guide the policies that will help kids walk across the stage and graduate.”
It’s a six-way scrum in the Aug. 28 primary for a seat that could go a long way toward determining both the immediate and long-range future of the board and there probably is no clear-cut favorite.
Besides Perez, the candidates are Scott Hottenstein and Robert Pechacek, who are both teachers. Henry “Shake” Washington is a retired school administrator and former coach. Political consultant Kelso Tanner and student cafeteria manager Michell Smithey round out the field.
While Griffin was a lightning rod on many issues, most notably the firing of Superintendent MaryEllen Elia, she also was popular with voters. Even though she was specifically targeted for defeat in 2014 by Elia’s supporters, Griffin easily defeated Dipa Shah in the countywide race.
Opponents who haven’t gotten over the Elia firing likely see this as an opportunity to reshape the board.
Add to that the surprising decision by Susan Valdes, another Elia detractor, to leave the Board with two years left on her term to run for State Representative, and it raises speculation what direction a new-look Board might take after the November election.
The District still faces significant financial problems and an estimated $1 billion backlog in capital needs. A growing student population and the need for continued construction of new buildings are also issues facing the nation’s eighth-largest district.
At a recent meeting, Griffin sounded the alarm again about finances.
“We are at 2007 per-student funding levels in the year 2018,” she said. “That has got to be something that we scream from the mountaintops because at the end of the day we are trying to operate with less dollars while everything costs more. We’re in a perfect storm in the world of public education. And it’s not good.”
How the Board deals with that crisis after the November elections will be one of the most critically watched things in Hillsborough County.
It won’t be Griffin’s problem then, but she is hoping her endorsement of Karen Perez will help lead to a positive solution.