Bartow resident Hazel Sellers drives only a few blocks to work every day and has for more than a dozen years and she wants to keep doing it. But to keep doing it she has to convince voters she’s doing a good job.
Her office is on Floral Avenue and on the door it says: School Board Member District 3. Sellers is one of seven board members who control the purse-strings of the school system, hire its superintendent, set policy for how the schools are operated, decide what is taught and a host of other duties.
Elected 12 years ago, Sellers filed Tuesday, March 11, to run for re-election against challenger and former Board Member and Polk County Commissioner Randy Wilkinson. Sellers represents Bartow, Mulberry, Fort Meade and the rest of southwest Polk County.
Sellers has seen lots of changes in her tenure in office, ranging from having an elected superintendent to blush financial times, but today, she says the board is facing “really tough times.”
She explained that the district’s 146 schools are in disrepair and there’s no money to fix them. In fact, according to unofficial decisions reached at the board’s recent retreat, the board is seriously considering raising taxes and extending the sales tax.
“We’ve got to do something and there just doesn’t seem to be any other way,” she said. The bulk of the money, she explains would go to boost the academic programs, but a healthy slice would be used to mend and update buildings and buy new buses.
During her tenure, she’s seen the board go through numerous changes, including switching from an elected to an appointed superintendent, which she says was a “very good move.” She helped select the district’s present superintendent last June.
Sellers started her education career shortly after she graduated from Florida State University in 1972 as a reading and elementary education teacher, followed that by several other posts which led her to the district office where she served as reading coach. She also has a double master’s degree from the University of South Florida in both reading instruction and educational leadership.
One of Sellers’ accomplishments while in office, she says, is as an avid supporter of career academies.
“I believe the academies give all students a chance to see where their career lies,” she says. “They may think they want to be a firefighter, but after a few classes, they learn that’s not for them. We give them the chance to find out while they are still in school so they can explore other options.”
Dealing with schools that have received a failing or near-failing grade from the state DOE is also topping her list, especially as one, Bartow middle School, is in her district.
“The fault isn’t with out teachers or our students,” she says. “Our teachers are good, our kids are good. The state keeps changing the parameters the base the scores on.”
She maintains she wants the district curricula to be “rigorous so our children are competitive when they graduate and go into the work force or on to college. But we have to know by what standards we and they are to be judged and we’re not getting a clear picture. We hope the new standards being developed now will give us that picture. Then, we’ll really know how our kids and teachers are really progressing.”
Finances are the hardest part of her job, she says.
“We have to be fiscally responsible and I’m certainly trying to be. We won’t wildly spend money and we’re aware that Polk County is not a wealthy district. We have to let people know that we are transparent and show them the facts and figures that give them a clear picture of why we are where we are.”
One of Sellers’ aims, she explains, is to get more community involvement in both the individual schools and in the board’s business.
“People need to know what we’re doing for their children, and realize that we’re all working for them.
“I work hard and I do what I say I’m going to do. I’m honest, I have integrity and I’m always reachable. I represent the people of Polk County and I want us to have the best school system in the state that can be a model for others.”
Sellers, 62, was widowed four years ago, and when not at her school board office, she is active in the Bartow Rotary Club, the Zonta Club; is an elder in the First Presbyterian Church, sits on the board of the Guardian Ad Litem program, works with the anti-drug Interact Alliance and is a trustee of the Florida Educator’s Trust Fund.
She also has three children and 10 grandchildren.
The non-partisan election will be held on Aug. 26.