School boards in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco choose leaders

Times staff | By Marlene Sokol | November 22, 2022

They also swore in newly elected members, including some who embrace Gov. Ron DeSantis’ push for parents’ rights.

Megan Harding is the new chairperson of the Pasco County School Board. In Pinellas County, that position has been passed to Lisa Cane. And in Hillsborough, Nadia Combs was asked by a 4-3 vote to serve a second term.

Meeting Tuesday morning, all three boards swore in new and reelected members. The vice chairs are: Alison Crumbley in Pasco, Laura Hine in Pinellas and Henry “Shake” Washington, also serving a second term, in Hillsborough.

The holiday-week ceremonies followed an election season in which school boards in Florida and around the nation found themselves immersed in political culture-war issues.

Early on, Gov. Ron DeSantis crafted a 10-point education agenda that became a playbook for those candidates seeking his endorsement. The list included safeguards against what DeSantis called “woke gender ideology” and a ban on critical race theory, which explores systemic racism in society.

Hillsborough saw victories in the August primary election for new candidate Patti Rendon and incumbent Stacy Hahn, both backed by DeSantis. The governor also endorsed Pasco candidate Al Hernandez, who won in the November runoff after weathering a court case that questioned whether he met residency requirements.

In Pinellas, conservative candidates Dawn Peters and Stephanie Meyer also won in November runoff elections. Peters and Meyer were endorsed by Moms for Liberty, a parents rights organization that supports DeSantis’ education agenda. When they were sworn in on Tuesday, Peters and Meyer received standing ovations from supporters in the audience.

The Pasco and Pinellas meetings moved swiftly through the ceremonies and votes.

In Hillsborough, the meeting began with public comments from a group of parents who have been advocating for a K-8 school in Original Carrollwood.

There were detailed remarks about diversity and integrity from returning board member Karen Perez, who brought her children and grandchildren with her when she took her oath. Perez’s reelection defied the trend towards conservative victories, as she had been challenged by Aly Legge, who was favored by both DeSantis and Moms For Liberty.

There were also accolades on Tuesday for Combs. Her colleagues praised the work Combs did to promote a tax referendum for the schools and her outreach efforts in the Hispanic community.

“It’s almost uncomfortable for me to hear those kinds of compliments,” Combs said. “It’s really an honor for me to have been able to serve.”

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