September 4, 2008

Hazouri’s Long Career in Politics Still Going Strong


To some, he's the guy who lives off Marbon Road in Mandarin.

Others remember Tommy Hazouri as a former Jacksonville mayor.

Now the 63-year-old former state legislator and mayor has a new position - re-elected Duval County School Board member for Mandarin and parts of the Westside.

Hazouri beat opponent John Turner in Tuesday's primary election, garnering 12,094 (69.4 percent) of the 17,418 votes cast in 40 precincts that make up School Board District 7. Turner received 5,3243 votes (30.5 percent).

It was back to work the day after, attending a five-hour school board workshop. But as he walked out, Hazouri said he hoped his re- election was due to the job he and the other board members have done in the past four years.

"It feels like the district is moving in the right direction," Hazouri said. "I feel fortunate. We have more, and won bigger than anyone else in the community. Hopefully they [voters] are pleased with the work I do, and the experience they want to continue with."

Only 96,301 of the city's 495,316 registered voters cast ballots Tuesday, for a 19.4 percent turnout. But some parts of Mandarin saw up to 40 percent turnout, especially in the voting precincts along the St. Johns River side of the community.

Hazouri is a Jacksonville native whose wife, Carol, and son Tommy Jr. are both school teachers. From 1974 to 1986, he was a state representative, including two years as chairman of the House Committee on Education, K-12. He beat John Lewis for the mayor's office in 1987, then became a member of the Florida Commission on Ethics in 1991 when he left the mayor's office. He was elected to the School Board in 2004.

His tenure on the board has seen two superintendents -John Fryer and Joseph Wise - leave, with Hazouri himself one of the loudest critics of the latter leader. The school district also weathered budget cuts from the state, as well as the search for a new high school site to help ease overcrowding at Mandarin, Englewood, Sandalwood and Wolfson high schools.

One high school location was found off Butler Boulevard, then it got mired in problems, while the current Florida 9A/Baymeadows Road site was not popular with some neighbors. The newest is the new elementary school on Bartram Springs Boulevard, under construction now to handle overcrowding in the Mandarin part of his district.

"That was a promise I made. It wasn't all done overnight, but hopefully I provide part of the needed leadership to make it happen to meet the growth needs of our district," he said.

The next four years will include more challenges for the School Board and city, Hazouri said. The Academic and Community Excellence Plan has held a summer's worth of public hearings looking at how school facilities are used, and whether attendance boundaries need to change to best use them to all students' best advantage. The new strategic plan to increase students' academic achievement and graduation rates, improve school safety and get families and the community involved is important, too.

"The bottom line is eliminating the achievement gap, with equal schools for everyone in the district, and everyone will be proud to go to their neighborhood school or the one they chose to attend," he said.

The budget is a continuing issue, said the former state lawmaker, making sure the Legislature keeps its constitutional mandate to provide quality public education.

That means continuing to tighten the district budget after indications that more state cuts are coming.

As for his long political career so far, Hazouri said he sees no end to his public service other than living under the two-term limit on the board.

"Because of my involvement in education with a wife teaching for 41 years and a son in his third year as a teacher, education has been my No. 1 priority," Hazouri said.

"I really haven't given it [his future in politics] a thought. We have too strong a commitment to putting our education system back on track."

Turner is a 20-year Navy veteran with three children, and has been a regular attendee at School Board meetings.

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