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Pinellas School Board candidates enter the Tiger’s Den Wednesday

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The nine candidates for the three open seats on the Pinellas County School Board will be the featured speakers at Wednesday’s luncheon meeting of the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club.

The nine are the latest in a line of candidates appearing before members of the non-partisan, political club in the run-up to the Aug. 30 election. That election is known more like a primary election, but non-partisan races for school board and judgeships are also on the ballot as is one state Constitutional amendment.

The candidates and races:

District One, elected at large:

Robert J. Beal, Bill Dudley, Joanne Lentino and Matt Stewart are running for the seat currently held by Janet Clark, who is not seeking reelection.

Robert J. Beal
Robert J. Beal

Beal is a student at St. Petersburg College. He says his goal is to enter the healthcare field in some capacity. Before starting college in 2013, he worked for Raytheon and said he holds a secret clearance. Beal said he started in security in 2008 then transferred to logistics. He was laid off in 2012, recalled in 2013, and laid off again in 2013. He was recalled in 2014, but refused to go back.

Bill Dudley
Bill Dudley

Dudley is a former St. Petersburg council member who termed out after eight years. Before running for the council, he was a teacher and coach. Dudley taught at Meadowlawn Junior High. After two years he transferred to his alma mater, Northeast High School, and remained there until his retirement in 2006. His coaching career began as a basketball coach at Meadowlawn and then continued at Northeast where he coached football, cross country and wrestling.

Joanne Lentino
Joanne Lentino

Lentino moved to Pinellas County in 2003. Before that, she lived in Las Vegas where she worked for the city’s cultural affairs division, managing the budget, grant proposals, a full-time staff, and day-to-day operations. After moving to Pinellas, she began teaching. She recently retired after a 10-year stint with the Pinellas County School System. She continues to mentor students.

Matt Stewart
Matt Stewart

Stewart is a native of Pinellas County who holds a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction, an MA in religious studies, an MA in Theology, and a BA in philosophy. He is a deputy director for the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections and an adjunct faculty member in the College of Policy, Ethics, and Legal Studies at SPC. Stewart has previously worked for SPC, Pinellas County government, Eckerd Youth Alternatives, and other non-profits and educational organizations.

District Four, elected by voters who live in the district:

Challenger Eileen Long is facing incumbent Ken Peluso.

Eileen Long
Eileen Long

Long has a degree in special education from the University of South Florida and has added reading and ESOL (English for speakers of other languages) to her teaching certificate. She has been a teacher for 33 years. She began her career in Hillsborough County. Two years later, she moved to 16th Street Middle and Childs Park Fundamental in Pinellas. She transferred to Oak Grove Middle where she worked for 13 years. She now teaches at Clearwater Intermediate, which is a drop-out prevention school.

Ken Peluso
Ken Peluso

Peluso was elected to the School Board in 2014 and is seeking his first full term. He is a retired chiropractor. Before retiring, he owned and operated Peluso Chiropractic Center for 28 years. Peluso served as a Palm Harbor fire commissioner from 2000-2006. He serves on the board of directors of the Florida School Boards Association, was appointed by the governor to chair the Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas County, and served on the Florida Early Learning Advisory Council District Five, elected by voters who live in the district

Incumbent Carol Cook is facing a challenge from Mike Petruccelli and Eliseo Santana.

Carol Cook
Carol Cook

Cook was elected to the School Board in 2000 and has served for 16 years. She’s a graduate of the University of South Florida and taught elementary school in Pinellas County’s Title I schools for ten years.

Cook serves on the Florida School Boards Association board of directors in her role as chair of the state legislative committee. She is currently serving on the MPO (now Forward Pinellas) school transportation and safety committee and value adjustment board.

Mike Petruccelli
Mike Petruccelli

Petruccelli has been a local real estate broker associate and insurance agent in Pinellas County for more than 30 years. He ran unsuccessfully for mayor of St. Petersburg in 1993. Petruccelli was also unsuccessful in a 2006 bid for state House of Representatives. He won a seat on the Indian Shores Town Council in 2014 and is currently serving there. Petruccelli is a graduate of Dixie Hollins High School.

Eliseo Santana
Eliseo Santana

Santana is making his first run for public office. He holds an MBA from Schiller International University and a BA in business administration from Tampa College. Santana began his career as a tactical FM radio specialist in the U.S. Army then moved to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office where Santana was a communications maintenance supervisor. He also served in the National Guard from 1980-1982 and was an electronics technology vocational instructor for the Pinellas County School System from 1987-1989.

Pinellas School Board members serve four-year terms. Among their duties are passing a budget and hiring and overseeing a superintendent, who serves as the chief administrative officer of the school system. They also hire a board attorney. The school board meets at least twice a month.

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