Seven candidates are running for the Hillsborough County School Board District 7 election, and Stanley Gray thinks he’s the best man for the job.
The 60-year-old retired Marine captain lived all around the country for the first part of his life, but settled down in Tampa in 2001.
He’s outraged by the graduation rates in Hillsborough County schools, and says more people should be. According to a 2015 Tampa Bay Times report, Hillsborough had a graduation rate of 73.5 percent, which trailed the statewide rate of 76.1 percent and the national rate of 81 percent. Only 60 percent of Hillsborough’s black students earned diplomas in 2014, and only 68.1 percent of Hispanic students did.
“One of the things that really concerns me is the dropout rate, which I think is understated,” he said in a telephone conversation last week. “I don’t see anybody really taking this to task. That’s really where the problem starts from, and that’s the reason why I’m running, so I can try to help turn this around.” Gray said he fears that those kids who leave school early will end up on welfare or in jail.
Through the end of May, Gray raised more than $30,000 in the campaign, second only to DNC Committeeman Alan Clendenin, and had over $19,000 cash-on-hand (Clendenin has raised over $37,000 and spent only $625). The winner will succeed Carol Kurnell, who has served on the board for the past 24 years.
He had been substituting teaching in recent years, usually at Lanier Elementary, until he said he began ramping up his campaign. He also created a nonprofit four years ago called On Track, which provides mentors to work with teachers and students at Lanier Elementary, Monroe Middle and Robinson High schools. He also served on the boards and executive committees of Hillsborough Kids, The YMCA and the Boys and Girls Club.
Gray says he’s a truth-teller, which is why he says that his critical comments that Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn hasn’t kept up his promises he made to the black community during his 2011 campaign, has cost him the mayor’s support in the race. “He’s done a lot of good things, but when you start talking specifically in the African-American community, I think that he’s come short on some of the things that he inferred that he was going to do. That’s my belief, and I shared that.”
Buckhorn says he vaguely remembers his encounter with Gray, but says he definitely backs Clendenin in the race. “I think he’s far more qualified, far more prepared to be a school board member, has a long stable work history and I think would be a much better asset to this community,” he said last week.
Pressure by civil rights activists who said the county should stop the “school to prison pipeline” has led to revised discipline policies in Hillsborough County, which in turn has led to a reduction in school suspensions. But Gray says that he’s talked to approximately 30 teachers and a handful of administrators who aren’t pleased with the new policies.
“Our teachers are afraid, and I know when people are afraid, their productivity wanes,” he says. “I don’t believe that our teachers believe that they’re supported now. Whether that’s true or not, it doesn’t matter, because that’s the way they feel. That’s the message I get when I talk to the teachers. The suspension policy, they feel — the ones that I’ve talked to — is that they’re being reviewed in a negative light because they can’t control somebody in their classroom.”
When asked his thoughts about the treatment of former superintendent MaryEllen Elia, who was ousted in a 4-3 vote by the board in January of 2015, Gray initially says he prefers not to comment, since he says he wasn’t aware of all the facts that led to the controversial decision. He says he sees fault on both sides, and adds: “I truly believe that there was more personality in that decision than there was a performance, and I just see that as a travesty.”
He then elaborates.
“I personally think … that the board should have had more say so on her goals and objectives, and that’s one of the things that I say when I’m running that I’m going to do, I’m going to work collaboratively with the board to come up with goals and objectives for the superintendent, that are both near term and strategic, and I’m going to evaluate without any filters, or forgone conclusions or alliances.
“That’s how I’m going to act.”
Gray says that he wants to be transparent in his campaign, which is why he is acknowledging that he filed for bankruptcy back in November of 2012. He stated that he got in over his head by paying to keep both of his parents in a nursing home, as well as spending money mentoring some kids.
“I went to the banks in a proactive matter, and asked to renegotiate the terms,” he said about filing for bankruptcy. “They were hesitant, so I said let’s do it,”
In addition to Clendenin, the other candidates in the District 7 School Bord race are Carlos Frontela, Lynn Gray (no relation to Stanley), Cathy James, Norene Miller and Randy Toler, the Green Party activist who ran in 2014 for the District 6 seat.