LAND O'LAKES — Voters on Tuesday narrowed the crowded field of candidates in three School Board races, setting the stage for three runoffs on the November ballot.
Since no one got the majority needed for an outright victory, the top two vote-getters in each district will move on to the Nov. 2 election.
The closest battle came in District 3, where developer Mike Ryan held a narrow lead over Realtor and former teacher Cynthia Armstrong. Each took just less than one-third of the vote.
Ryan called the result "amazingly humbling," adding that he was "blown away" by his showing.
"It's time to bring it to the next level," he said of his campaign.
Armstrong said she, too, is ready for the next steps in the race.
"This was the goal, to make the runoff," she said. "I've got to hit the ground running tomorrow."
Real estate marketing director Alison Crumbley led the field of five candidates running in District 4. She will meet hotel sales director Karen King in the general election.
King said she was "feeling great" with the outcome, and already was talking like the eventual winner.
"I am looking forward to representing the kids and the teachers and everybody," she said. "I think I'll have a very positive impact."
Crumbley could not be reached Tuesday night for comment.
In District 5, former high school assistant principal Steve Luikart led the field, but not by enough to avoid another round with developer Mark Swartsel.
"I'm still in the game, so that's a good thing. I look forward to the next two months," Luikart said, adding that he would reveal more specific plans for the district during the coming weeks.
Swartsel said the politics weren't his favorite part of the process, adding that it's just a necessary part of getting to the goal.
"I guess being No. 2 is better than being No. 3," he said. "I've put in a lot of work, but I know there's a lot more work to be done."
District 1 incumbent Allen Altman, the board's current chairman, faced no opposition for his east Pasco seat and has won a second term.
The School Board is guaranteed a new majority in November with the departure of three sitting members.
Kathryn Starkey resigned her District 4 seat in June, effective in November, to run for a seat in the state House of Representatives. She and businessman Fabian Calvo lost a bitter three-way battle to lawyer Richard Corcoran for the District 45 seat held by Tom Anderson, who faced term limits. Corcoran faces only a write-in opposition in the November general election.
Incumbent Frank Parker announced in the winter that he would not seek a second term serving District 5, partly due to health reasons. He said he planned to ease back his accounting business as well. His decision came shortly after three-term board veteran Cathi Martin declared she would not run again in District 3.
The other candidates seeking Starkey's seat included psychologist Steve Kanakis, retired court reporter Billie Kaleel and pastor John Tracy.
Four hopefuls vied for Martin's post — Armstrong, lawyer Sallie Skipper and teacher Anthony Terranova — after showing interest in the job when she signaled she might quit a year ago. Ryan rounded out the field.
District 5, with just three candidates, offered the best chance of an outright win in the primary. Instead, it turned into a tight race. Educators Luikart and George Brazier filed early, while Swartsel jumped in at the last minute, saying the School Board needed business leadership during tough economic times.
The eventual winners face some critical challenges in the coming year, including ensuring a balanced budget, complying with the class size amendment, improving employee morale and working through the details of Florida's Race to the Top education reform initiatives.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.