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Four Hillsborough School Board races on the ballot

Eight candidates will face off Tuesday in runoff elections for positions on the Hillsborough County School Board.

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — While many eyes will be glued on the biggest race in the free world, you don't want to forget about the local races in your community that often have big implications on your family.

Eight candidates will face off Tuesday for one of the four positions on the Hillsborough School Board, a district in the spotlight the last few months for clashing with Tallahassee about reopening schools amid the pandemic and most recently, eliminating about 400 positions in an effort to make up a $72 million budget shortfall.

RELATED: Hillsborough schools announce salary raise, but budget cuts coming amid COVID-related challenges

Here is a breakdown about the candidates running for Hillsborough County School Board.

District 1 (Northwest Hillsborough)

Credit: 10 Tampa Bay

Nadia Combs

  • Former teacher and current owner of a tutoring center
  • Had the most votes in the primary election with 44.26 percent of the vote

HER PRIORITY: Right now, given the pandemic, she says making sure the kids are successful academically and emotionally. She’s really concerned about kids doing eLearning and thinks "we need to do a better job reaching them." 

Steve Cona III 

  • Incumbent candidate and president of a builders' association
  • Received 33.30 percent of the vote during the primary

ISSUES: He lists three issues on his website -- fiscal accountability, school security and maintenance problems in schools. Cona says he wants to end problems by "eliminating financial waste, and returning more money to teacher salaries and classroom education."

District 3 (North Hillsborough)

Credit: 10 Tampa Bay

(There is no incumbent in this race. Previous board member, Cindy Stuart was elected to Clerk of Court)

Mitch Thrower

  • Public accountant and fifth-generation resident of Hillsborough County
  • Captured 25.18 percent of the vote in the primary race in August

PRIORITIES: He lists three priorities on his website -- high quality education for all students, safe and secure school environment, and accountability and fiscal management. He says, "Since Hillsborough County is the 7th largest school district in the U.S. with more than 24,000 employees, 200,000 students, and a budget of approximately $3.3 billion, it is critical that our school system runs efficiently."

Jessica Vaughn 

  • Substitute teacher and product of Hillsborough County Public Schools
  • In a close primary election, Vaughn won over 24.49 percent of voters

CHALLENGES: She told us many of the challenges facing the district are tied to the budget and a lack of proper funding for public education from Tallahassee adding, "Our biggest challenge is the lack of real support from Tallahassee both in terms of the lack of autonomy and the lack of funding coming from Tallahassee as they attempt to privatize education."

District 5 (Central Tampa)

Credit: 10 Tampa Bay

Tamara Shamburger

  • Incumbent candidate and proponent of keeping schools closed until the pandemic was more under control
  • Won 23.70 percent of the vote in the primary

PRIORITIES: Shamburger has been a loud voice in making the health and safety of staff and students the number one concern for the school district amid the coronavirus pandemic. She spoke out against reopening schools in August and preferred to see the entire district adopt remote learning for at least the first four weeks. She has also advocated for closing the achievement gap and increasing literacy while also spearheading a historical committee the district formed after forgotten African American graves were found buried on the campus of King High School.

Henry “Shake” Washington 

  • Former educator and most proud of the students he helped stay out of the criminal justice system
  • Came closest to capturing the necessary 50 percent of the vote during the primary to clinch the election with 44.45 percent

CHALLENGES: In an e-mail, he told 10 Tampa Bay, "The biggest challenges currently facing our district are the extreme budget shortfall and the ongoing response to COVID-19. District leaders and the school board are charged with making the necessary fiduciary decisions and laser focused oversight to ensure that we have the funding needed to adequately educate our students. 

Additionally, the COVID-19 response must keep students safe while protecting equity.  We need school board leadership who will help the district navigate these uncertain waters."

District 7 (At-large)

Credit: 10 Tampa Bay

Sally Harris

  • Served on the Hillsborough School Board from 2014-2018
  • In a tight race, she won over 28.40 percent of voters in August

PRIORITIES: She told us, "Coping skills for our students and teachers. We have all been through a lot in 2020 and we need to build morale, strength and teach our children the skills to get thru life when we are thrown tough times." Harris also is calling for reduced health care costs for teachers and change at the middle school level to keep students on a positive path.

Lynn Gray 

  • Incumbent candidate most proud of expanding mentoring and tutoring programs at high needs schools
  • Won 27.85 percent of the vote in the primary election

CHALLENGES: She said, "Getting our kids back in front of our teachers safely in the world of COVID. Most of our children are NOT learning via online. Many do not have WiFi access nor computer access. I have been a teacher for over 3 decades...and know the value of teaching in front of our children. There is continual social/emotional and academic successes with 'in person' [learning]. Without that 'in person' model it is very difficult for parents to reinforce what a teacher does and says to their students."

RELATED: How to get a ride to the polls on Election Day

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