Sunday, April 22, 2018
News Roundup

Dewitt: Only a few voters care to steer future of schools

Ho-hum. The only thing at stake was the financial future of the Hernando County schools.

Also, there was solid evidence that incumbent School Board candidate John Sweeney pulled strings to change his son's grades, an outrageous case of meddling by an elected official.

But why bother filling out a ballot? Why send a message or make yourself heard? Somebody else will take care of it.

I guess that's what the great majority of voters who stayed away from the polls were thinking Tuesday. Of course, I can only guess because you can't interview people at the polls if they don't show up.

And not many did. Only 20,101 of the county's 123,897 registered voters — 16.4 percent — cast ballots.

True, that number is not that much lower than in some other recent primaries. But that doesn't mean there's no problem here; it means it's a chronic problem.

What about the people who did vote? What convinced them it was worth their while?

Mostly the School Board races, said the voters I talked to outside Precinct 10 at Grace World Outreach Church in Brooksville.

For starters, the District 3 race included only two candidates, meaning it produced a final result, a new board member, Beth Narverud.

Then there was Sweeney, who really needed to be removed from office; fortunately, he was.

Finally, there was the district's frightening financial situation.

If the proposed penny sales tax goes down in November, we need board members capable of picking up the pieces.

If it passes, the board will still have to scrounge up an estimated $66 million in repair and maintenance costs over the next five years.

Though that can't be paid for with impact fees, the district's massive debt, among other expenses, can be. And that means the board could use a member willing to shame the County Commission into restoring them as soon as possible.

That Susan Duval, in District 5, heads to the November runoff with the most votes is a good sign in this regard; she's aware of the district's desperate needs. Narverud, on the other hand, is not a fan of impact fees.

Most of the voters I talked to declined to say for whom they'd voted, just that they had done their homework and voted because that's just what they do.

"I'm a true voter," said Gwen Hoskins, 52. "I vote no matter what."

Said Cindy Dietrich, 68: "I vote all the time, and have since I was 18."

They vote because they think they should.

"It's my responsibility," said Harley Schenck, 70. "That's what you do if you're a good citizen. You read all the stuff (about the candidates) and you vote."

They did it to maintain their right to gripe about the results.

"If I don't vote, I don't have the right to complain," said Wilma Burgess, 61.

Glad as I am that they voted, we shouldn't get too carried away congratulating them. It really wasn't that difficult.

You could mail in your ballot or cast your vote at one of four early voting locations. The polls opened early enough and closed late enough to allow people to vote either before work or after.

And in nearly an hour at Precinct 10, I counted only about a dozen voters.

Nobody, I'm sure, had to worry about long lines.

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