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Pinellas school board incumbents face challengers

. PETERSBURG — Each of the four Pinellas County School Board members seeking re-election in August will face a challenger, and the flurry of campaigning is already under way.

Five of the seven school board seats are up for election, the fifth becoming open after Robin Wikle, who represents North Pinellas in District 4, announced her mid-term retirement after six years on the board.

Because the school board is nonpartisan, the election will be held during the Aug. 29 primary. In District 4, if none of the three candidates receives at least 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote-getters will compete in the general election Nov. 4.

Here is a look at the candidates who qualified by the deadline Friday:

At Large, District 2

♦ Terry Krassner — A former principal of Westgate Elementary School, Krassner has held the District 2 seat since 2010. A third-generation Pinellas County resident, Krassner has four children who have attended or currently are attending public schools in the district. She has worked in the district as an elementary and middle school teacher, as well as an assistant principal at Starkey Elementary School. Her father, Lee Benjamin, was a school board member and her mother was a teacher in the school district.

♦ Chris Tauchnitz — A senior software engineer for VeriFone, Tauchnitz is an Army veteran and husband of Palm Harbor Middle School teacher Jenifer Tauchnitz. A graduate of Boca Ciega High School, Tauchnitz has two sons, ages 4 and 8, and is a volunteer in Oldsmar Elementary’s PTA and Dad’s Club, as well as a Cub Scout leader. Tauchnitz said he wants to lend a parent’s perspective to the school board. There are too many “fads” in county schools that have yet to be proven, he said, such as the flipped-school model proposed at the new Gulf Beaches and Kings Highway elementary technology magnets.

At Large, District 3

♦ Peggy O’Shea — O’Shea has held the District 3 seat since 2006, and served as vice chairwoman from 2007-08 and chairwoman from 2008-09. O’Shea is a former chairwoman of the Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas. She has served on the Choice Reform Task Force and several other district task forces and School Advisory Councils. Outside of the school system, O’Shea is a member of the executive board of the Palm Harbor Area Chamber of Commerce, former board member of the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative, the East Lake Community Library, Pinellas Public Access Advisory Committee, and a member of the Palm Harbor Rotary. She works as a mediator and manages a commercial arbitration and mediation service.

♦ Kent Curtis — A professor of environmental history at USF St. Petersburg, Curtis also is founder of the Edible Education Project, a consulting firm that develops local “farm-to-plate food systems.” He has trained educators in environmental education at the Thoreau Institute at Walden Woods and worked as an environmental history and environmental studies professor at Fordham University, University of Massachusetts, Emerson University and Eckerd College. A parent of two children, Curtis is a PTA and SAC member, and has been a volunteer mentor in Title 1 schools since 2009. Curtis said the school district needs to ensure all schools are well-funded and every child has an equal opportunity for education.

District 4

♦ Beverley Billiris — A fifth-grade teacher at Tarpon Springs Elementary School and the former mayor of Tarpon Springs, Billiris is a long-time elementary school teacher and has been endorsed by Wikle for her extensive background of community and school involvement. Billiris said that through her former positions as vice mayor and mayor of Tarpon Springs and as chairwoman of the Pinellas Planning Council she would provide “a fiscally conservative perspective” and “insight into classrooms.”

♦ John Nygren — A former math teacher at Dunedin High School, Nygren taught for 25 years in Massachusetts and about 10 years in Florida, and was on the Berlin, Mass., School Committee for four years in the early 1980s. Nygren said he would like to see more emphasis on technical schools and more training and planning time for teachers. Since retiring from the school district three years ago, Nygren has continued to work on school committees developing math curricula.

♦ Ken Peluso — A retired chiropractor, Peluso is a Palm Harbor fire commissioner and served as chairman of the Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas County, the Palm Harbor Chamber of Commerce Education Committee and Government Affairs Committee, and the Palm Harbor Foundation board, which focuses on educational scholarships. He has been named Palm Harbor’s Honorary Mayor, Citizen of the Year and Small Business of the Year. He is a board member for Calvary Christian High School in Clearwater and on the advisory councils for East Lake High, Carwise Middle and Highland Lakes Elementary schools. Peluso lost the 2008 school board election to Wikle by a half percentage point.

District 6

♦ Linda Lerner: A 24-year school board member, Lerner is the board’s vice-chairwoman and its longest serving member. A former teacher and counselor, she was the Florida Education Association’s 2013 recipient for the Human and Civil Rights Leadership Award. Lerner was director of education support services at the Resource Center for Women and currently serves on the Pinellas Education Foundation Career Education Board, Suncoast Center Board, Daystar Life Center Board, Community Alliance, Exceptional Student Education Advisory Committee, Pinellas Youth Pride Board and Suncoast Tiger Bay Club Board. She has a bachelor’s degree from Lesley College and a master’s degree in special education from Columbia University. She is seeking her seventh term on the school board.

♦ Maureen Ahern: A graduate of Boca Ciega High School and the University of South Florida, Ahern has worked as a substitute teacher and co-owns the Pinellas Golf Association and a pool remodeling company with her husband, Republican state Rep. Larry Ahern. She is involved with community organizations such as St. Petersburg’s International Relations Committee and the 49th Street South Business Association, and is vice president of the Bay Pines Estates Civic Association.

District 7

♦ Rene Flowers — Elected to the District 7 seat in 2012 to complete the term of deceased member Lew Williams, Flowers previously was vice chairwoman of the St. Petersburg City Council from 1999 to 2006, and its chairwoman from 2000-02. Flowers was president of the Florida League of Cities from 2006-07. A graduate of Eckerd College, she has a history of community and civic involvement, including the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, the city of St. Petersburg Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, Community Development Block Grant Committee, YMCA of Greater Tampa Bay, The National Council of Negro Women, and the MLK Day of Service Committee.

♦ Irene Olive Cates — Founder of the nonprofit St. Petersburg-based organization Cates Enterprises Movement Change, Cates said schools should find more innovative, hands-on ways to teach students to become “producers instead of consumers,” whether through planting gardens and learning about healthy lifestyles or teaching about community issues and needs. Cates is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts and said she would like to plant gardens in every school. She is a board member for the Sustainable Urban Agriculture Coalition and president of the St. Pete Business League.

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