The Hillsborough County School Board’s stunning vote to oust Superintendent Mary EllenElia from her position in January of 2015 angered much of the Tampa Bay area’s business and political establishment.
He was hardly the only local official who strongly disagreed with the decision. But with just six weeks to go before two of the four members of the board who voted for Elia’s removal – Susan Valdes and Cindy Stuart – up for reelection next month, neither looks that very vulnerable, if you look at the most recent fundraising totals in their two respective races.
Stuart has raised more than three times as much money than Alicia Toler in her bid for reelection to the District 3 seat, while District 1 incumbent Valdes has done likewise against Bill Person in their contest.
“If I had to do it all over again, I would,” Valdes vowed on Saturday when asked about the incident at the Hillsborough County Democratic Black Caucus forum in West Tampa.
“It was going to be her decision to leave when she wanted,” Valdes said, discussing Elia’s contract at the time of her firing. “Yet under her tenure, how many of her black and brown kids weren’t sent to the other system? How many bonuses does she not get by putting kids that could not read or write on the level to take AP classes, and wind up with a bonus per student at $1,750 per kid, per class, and not graduate from high school?”
“Not under my watch,” Valdes continued. “Can’t have it.” She then pointed out to two small black children in the audience in the room at the Beulah Baptist Institutional Church. “Those are my kids. They’re all my kids. And that’s who we fight for…We had to buy out that contract. Would I do it again? Absolutely.”
Person isn’t holding Elia’s firing against Valdes.
“Something had to give,” he said. “You had an impasse between major portions of the school board and the superintendent.”
Person said he wasn’t obviously on the board at the time and thus wasn’t apprised of all the details that persuaded the majority of the members (which also included Sally Harris and April Griffin) to vote to remove Elia. “Most superintendents in the vast majority of school districts don’t last more than 3-5 years. That superintendent had been on board for 10 years, and things were starting to catch up with the superintendent and members of her staff.”
Person said if elected, it wouldn’t be “beyond” him to fire the superintendent, but added that he preferred to do it “with cause.”
It should be noted that anything can happen in these school board races. Two years ago, Harris defeated Michelle Shimburg in the District 2 race, winning 53-47 percent, despite the fact that Shimburg won the lion’s share of endorsements and raised substantially more money than Harris.