Being the father of a six-year-old autistic child, Randy Toler says he wants to the voice for the 26,000 special-needs students in the Hillsborough County school system. That's why he's running for the District 6 Hillsborough County School Board seat that had been considered an open seat for nearly a year. But that was before incumbent April Griffin stunned observers by announcing that she was rescinding her self-imposed exile from the board, and now will run for a third four-year term later this year.
Toler's son Rainer attends FACE, the Florida Autism Charter school of Excellence in Tampa, and he says more resources need to be deployed in Hillsborough County for special-needs students.
Last month, the school board fired Ingrid Peavy, a special education teacher, after she allowed a special needs sixth grader to wander away from Pierce Middle School in Tampa in 2012. That incident occurred just a week after the drowning death of another special-needs student in the county, Jenny Caballero. Caballero wandered away from another school in Riverview. In that case, two aides were fired.
Toler, a resident of Seffner, works for a technology company, and says he'd like to "bring to the table here a fast rollout of digitization throughout the school system."
He's also aware of some of the bad blood between superintendent MaryEllen Elia and two school board members, Griffin and Susan Valdes, and said he'd like to bring "some measure of common sense, and common ground to the board, which I think has been lacking." In addition, he'd like to revisit the idea of how Elia is evaluated, but wouldn't elaborate on that during a news conference held Tuesday in front of the school board headquarters on Kennedy Boulevard.
Toler is one of nine candidates (in addition to Griffin) running for the District 6 school board seat, but he's the only one who can lay claim to having co-founded a major political party, which he did with the the Green Party back in the late 1970s.
A New York Times
clip from 1983 lists him, in fact, as the sole founder of the US Greens, but Toler says if anything he is the co-founder. He says he's been active in Green Party politics in California, Illinois and Florida over the years, but that he's not a wild-eyed radical at all. "I think the Greens are bringing a mainstream candidate to the fore to win this school board race," he says of his candidacy.
With the addition of Griffin back into the race, however, it may be a challenge for some of those eight other challengers simply to get into a runoff with her in November.