Pinellas schools are not safe and teachers should have the means to defend themselves and students should the need arise, Mike Petruccelli said Wednesday.
Petruccelli is an Indian Shores council member who’s making a run for the District 5 seat on the Pinellas County School Board. He made his remarks Wednesday in response to an audience question during a school board candidates’ forum at a luncheon meeting of the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club. Eight of the nine candidates running for the three open seats on the board appeared on the dais.
Petruccelli was not the only candidate who believes Pinellas schools are not safe. Joanne Lentino, Matt Stewart, Eliseo Santana and Eileen Long agreed with him. But they did not agree that teachers should be allowed to carry concealed weapons on campus. Petruccelli stood alone on that.
Petruccelli said he became an advocate of teachers’ having concealed weapons after the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary where 20 first graders and six educators were killed. One image stood out for Petruccelli — that of a teacher wielding a ruler against a gunman.
“It hurts me to realize that young woman was standing there with nothing but a ruler in her hands,” he said.
That’s something he never wants to happen in Pinellas schools but believes will eventually occur.
“Frankly, right now, I think a credible threat and tragedy are headed our way,” Petruccelli said. “I’m usually a positive person, but I really have some worries over this.”
Petruccelli was equally gloomy in explaining why he’s running for the board: “My conviction, my concern, is we’re going the wrong way.”
One way to fix that, he said, is to go back to basics.
Petruccelli found some support among the other candidates who all seemed to agree that Pinellas schools need improvement. They disagreed in how much and what kind.
Bill Dudley, a former schoolteacher, coach and St. Petersburg council member, said, “By and large, our schools are doing pretty well. We have a couple of glitches along the road.”
One way to handle that, he said, is to leave teachers and administrators in place long enough for them to be able to make changes and see the results of those changes.
Stewart, an adjunct faculty member at St. Petersburg College, focused on the achievement gap between black and white, rich and poor.
“We do need to close the achievement gap. We’ve talked about it too long,” Stewart said.
He also advocated greater school readiness and, for students in the upper grades, job readiness.
Long, a Pinellas teacher, focused her concerns on teachers. Young teachers, she said, are terrified they will lose their jobs without cause. They shouldn’t have that worry while they’re trying to form ties with students and parents.
“Teachers need to have the freedom to teach,” Long said. Let teachers have a chance to build relationships because that has to happen “before any learning as far as textbooks takes place.”
The election for School Board is Aug. 30. The election is nonpartisan, so voters do not have to be registered in any particular party to cast a ballot in those races.
Voters across the county will be able to cast ballots in the District 1 at-large race that pits Dudley, Stewart, Joanne Lentino and Robert J. Beal against each other. There is no incumbent in this race. If one candidate does not receive at least 50 percent plus one vote, the two top vote-getters will move to a runoff in the Nov. 8 general election.
Voters in the northernmost section of Pinellas around Tarpon Springs and Palm Harbor will cast ballots in the single member District 4 race between Long and incumbent Ken Peluso.
Voters who live in parts of Clearwater, Belleair, Safety Harbor and Largo will cast ballots in the single member race for District 5 between Petruccelli, Santana and incumbent weapon.