William Allen Challenging Billy Townsend for School Board

A professor at Florida Southern College wants Billy Townsend’s job. William Allen, 45, has filed to run for the Lakeland-based District 1 seat on the Polk County School Board currently held by Townsend, 48.

Allen is a tenured associate professor of interactive and game design at FSC who has directed a documentary about the No. 2 pencil and invented an iPhone/iPad game app, Area51 Launch

Allen is a graduate of Bartow High School. He and his wife, Jill, have three school-age children, ages 15, 13 and 9.

Allen said he wants to sit on the School Board as a next logical progression in life. When he announced his candidacy, he said he wants “to help make Polk County Schools one of the greatest and strongest pillars of hope within the community.”

He is finishing a doctorate degree in digital media from the University of Central Florida.

Allen said he initially feels like he’s “on an island” and needs voices of support. He said he hopes to compete financially with Townsend, who is a formidable fundraiser.

In his first run for political office, Townsend raised $64,986 in 2016 when he ran as a reformer and unseated then-incumbent School Board member Hunt Berryman. Berryman raised $148,648 — $68,500 of it his own money.

Allen said he has a fund-raising strategy to connect with the greater Polk County community, and when asked, said he would welcome support from Lakeland First.

Lakeland First is the political action committee started by major investors in the Lakeland Economic Development Council. Its donations have had a major impact on recent Lakeland City Commission elections.

Allen said he’s been told Lakeland First focuses only on city elections. “But Seat 1 is a Lakeland seat,” Allen said.

Allen said some of the work Townsend has done on the board has been “uplifting,” but sometimes comes up short.

He said most of Townsend’s attention has been focused on teachers. They need proponents, Allen said, but not at the expense of people like parents, support staff and electricians.

Townsend said he welcomes political competition. But, he said, any notion that he hasn’t helped employees other than teachers is false.

Townsend said the board, at his direction, lowered the percentage of reserves held by the district from 5 to 4 percent, freeing $8 million each year for three years to provide raises for workers throughout the district.

Allen said student access to a variety of school choices, like charter and magnet schools, “is a big thing for me.”

But Townsend said he’s disturbed by Allen touting Step Up for Students on his campaign website.

Step up for Students is a state agency offering scholarships to Florida students. A Wikipedia article describes the scholarships and legal challenges against them.

“Step Up makes no effort at all to distinguish good private schools from the many, many frauds,” Townsend said.

Another contender, Ed Shoemaker, has withdrawn his candidacy for the nonpartisan School Board seat.

The filing deadline is June 12 at noon, and the election takes place Aug. 18.

School Board members are paid a yearly salary of $40,972.