TAMPA, Fla. — After more than four hours of debates, disagreements and decisions, the Hillsborough County school board on Tuesday narrowed its list of candidates for superintendent down to eight.

Consulting group Ray and Associates presented the board with 13 candidates down from the initial set of 51. From there, the consulting firm asked the board to use a special matrix to rank its top choices.

The following candidates made the initial shortlist: Stephanie Elialde, James McIntyre, Don Haddad, Addison Davis, Alexa Cunningham and Peter Licada.

Some felt the selections were rushed, while others expressed confidence in the process. Teacher’s union president Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins said she did not feel the matrix process gave board members enough time to make a proper selection, especially since candidates were not interviewed.

However, board chair Melissa Snively said the process was fair. 

"I do trust the fidelity of this process. We hired Ray and Associates to help us vet candidates. We agreed on specific criteria,” she said.

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After seeing none of the candidates had experience in Hillsborough County, board member Tamara Shamburger made a motion to give Chris Farkas and Harrison Peters an opportunity to interview for the position. The two were on the list presented by Ray and Associates but did not make the top cut. 

They were later added to the interview process.

Members of the local NAACP and the Tampa Organization of Black Affairs had a heavy presence at the meeting with questions about candidates’ records when it comes to minority affairs and the prison-to-pipeline trend.

"They need to do a better job of vetting these applicants,” said Joe Robinson of the Hillsborough NAACP. Robinson and others in the local African American community have been critical of Addison Davis of Clay County Schools because of the district’s prison-to-pipeline ranking by the ACLU. 

“I can't believe that Ray and Associates...actually shortlisted this person with a bad track record with prison to pipeline for African American students, students of color."

Hillsborough NAACP president Yvette Lewis also showed concern about Davis’ past. 

“They have a lot of concerns in their background that has plagued their community where they're from, and now you want to bring this issue to the forefront here in Hillsborough County?" Lewis said. "You're pushing our kids back."

Interviews for the eight candidates will take place on Jan. 16. At that time, the board will select two to three candidates. One-on-one interviews will take place on Jan. 21.

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