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On the Pinellas School Board campaign trail, one issue dominates

in The Bay and the 'Burg by

It’s probably not surprising, but if you’re running for re-election to the Pinellas County School Board, you can expect questions about the conditions of five schools in south and mid-county branded by the media as “failure factories.”

That’s the case even if you’re running for seat voted on only by residents in northernmost Pinellas County, Ken Peluso said.

“You cannot deny the attitude of the general public and the way they see the schools,” Peluso said. “There are a lot of questions related to the articles. … Failure Factories is dominating the conversation.”

And, he said, the articles that appeared earlier this year in the Tampa Bay Times, give opponents a ready-made platform.

“Oftentimes … the non-incumbents are using that as a platform against the incumbents,” he said, “not offering any solutions, but using that as a ‘get the bums out’ campaign.”

Peluso, a retired chiropractor, is running for his second term on the board against first-time candidate Eileen Long for the District 4 single member seat. Long is a teacher.

That can be frustrating, he said, because he was first elected to the board in 2014, long after the district returned to neighborhood schools. During his first meeting with Superintendent Mike Grego, the topic of black student achievement arose. Grego told him then of strategies that were being started to help bridge the gap in achievement between black and white students.

While those weren’t enough, they were an indication that the district was taking concrete steps to overcome the issue. And, he said, those steps are beginning to pay off with improved grades at three of the worst performing schools.

“We’re just now reaping the benefits of that,” Peluso said. “Nothing is going to happen overnight.”

Peluso said he believes the gains will continue not only for those first programs but others the district will begin implementing in the upcoming school year.

That, he said, is one reason he’s running for re-election “despite the criticism” — to make a contribution helping prepare children for the future.

To do that, Peluso said he advocates increasing the availability of choice in schools. That doesn’t mean creating more schools, just opening the options so more students can take advantage. And, he would like to see more career preparation, such as courses in industrial certification and technical training.

The nonpartisan election for Pinellas School Board is Aug. 30.

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