Life and politics from the Sunshine State's best city

Retiring teacher and incumbent face off in Pinellas School Board candidate forum

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

For the most part, the candidates’ forum in Palm Harbor on Monday night was a quiet affair – except when it came to the race for the District 4 seat on the Pinellas County School Board.

Ken Peluso
Ken Peluso

That’s the race where incumbent Ken Peluso, a retired chiropractor, is facing Eileen Long, a retiring teacher. The crux of the dispute was Long’s contention that a teacher is best suited to the job. The subtext was that Peluso does not understand the problems Pinellas classroom teachers face. Long has been endorsed by both the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association and PESPA, the union representing Pinellas school support workers.

“This is about the kids. It’s time for me to retire and do the right thing,” Long said.

Peluso countered with his experience on the board, his history of community service and his fiscal abilities.

“Community service has been a part of my blood,” Peluso said. “I have a passion for education.”

Long found support among some audience members who quizzed Peluso about his stance on the teachers’ union and how many times he’d visited schools in the district.

He was also pressed on the Early Learning Coalition, a not-for-profit planning and funding agency focused on early care and education. The goal is to prepare all children to enter kindergarten ready to succeed. The coalition supports school age children in continuing academic achievement. Peluso is a past chairman of the group.

One audience member wanted to know what the group does. Peluso attempted to explain but was unable to get his point across. Finally, he said, the group has nothing to do with the School Board and he would stay after to discuss it with her.

He also tangled with another audience member over visitation to schools and his support of teachers. When asked what schools he’d visited, he said there were too many to name. Someone commented, “That’s not what we heard.”

At one point, Peluso told his questioner that he could not say anything that would satisfy her.

Eileen Long
Eileen Long

Long also faced audience skepticism.

She was objecting to the elimination of “climate surveys” that allowed teachers to highlight both the positives and negatives about the district. They have been replaced, she said, with surveys that only ask for the good things that are happening.

But, she said, the district needs surveys that allow teachers to talk about what’s really needed. The climate surveys were successful, she said.

“Those surveys must come back,” Long said. “We must utilize them properly.”

Someone in the audience wanted to know if they were so successful, why were schools failing. The reference was to a 2015 series of news stories about the poor performance of several St. Petersburg elementary schools.

Long replied that the surveys were eliminated three or four years ago and, had they continued, there would have been no stories.

“We knew that those schools were going bad,” Long said.

Peluso said Long had her facts wrong. The climate surveys were eliminated one or two years ago. And, he said, the district not only knew about the problems, officials were acting to solve them as early as 2014. It’s those programs, he said, that are showing results now.

Pinellas School Board District 4 covers northernmost Pinellas County. Only those who live in the area can vote in the race.

The forum was jointly sponsored by the Council of North County Neighborhoods and the Greater Palm Harbor Chamber of Commerce. The election is Aug. 30.

Latest from The Bay and the 'Burg

Go to Top