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Joe Henderson Columns

Henderson: Hillsborough school board will miss Griffin

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Published:   |   Updated: November 26, 2013 at 10:22 AM

April Griffin will not run for re-election to the Hillsborough County school board when her second term expires next year, and that's too bad.

It's not because she has been perfect, because she hasn't been. It's not because she is irreplaceable, because no one is. And it's not because I'm taking sides in the Hatfields-and-McCoys relationship between Griffin and Superintendent MaryEllen Elia.

Elia has a lot of strengths, although the way she has handled criticism from Griffin and others isn't one of them.

Nope, I'm sorry about Griffin's decision because she has been a voice for the voiceless. The board and administration sometimes forget that some folks see the school system as an unfeeling bureaucracy that exists mainly to serve itself and its friends.

That perception hasn't been helped when Elia has occasionally been dismissive and imperial on matters of personnel and policy. That's when Griffin, who has referred to Elia as a bully and other unflattering terms, would remind the superintendent that she reports to the board. Sometimes, Elia appeared to get those roles reversed.

“I think the world needs rabble-rousers,” Griffin said. “I feel like my efforts toward the superintendent were absolutely genuine.”

The rabble was sufficiently roused this year when Griffin gave Elia the lowest score possible on her evaluation, a move she now admits “was over the top.”

It looked like retaliation for Elia's catty remark about Griffin at a public workshop. She grumped to a school employee that Griffin kept letting people gripe about her, and it was captured through an open microphone.

The truth is, Elia works for the taxpayers of Hillsborough County, who elect the board to which Elia reports. It's not easy listening to shrill criticism from people in the public who may not have all the information and just want to rant, but it's also part of the job description.

With Griffin's impending departure along with other members, no one can say for sure what the next board will look like. Candy Olson has said she also will leave next year after 20 years on the board, and Stacy White is running for the county commission. That's a turnover of at least three of the seven seats.

That's getting a little ahead of things, though. This board, including Griffin, has another year to serve.

Griffin said she will fight to further the cause of technical and career education, the importance of which often gets overlooked in a system that seems to value only math and science.

“That cause needs spokespeople who are loud and knowledgable,” she said. “I am both.”

As for her future after the board, no decisions.

She could be back in politics. She might relish the role of private citizen, public advocate. It's too soon to tell.

On one thing, though, there is no doubt. I asked Griffin if she has any regrets about her time on the board.

“None,” she said quickly. “I love what I've done. I feel as if I've made a difference.”

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