Despite furious opposition from the employees association, Pasco schools superintendent Heather Fiorentino claimed victory in her re-election bid Tuesday.
Fiorentino captured about 53 percent of the vote. She thanked the employees attending her celebration party for their backing.
"It's the hard work of all the employees that has allowed me the successes I've had. I feel very honored that the voters would put me back in office to lead," she said.
Fiorentino acknowledged the campaign against her and said the time has come to get past the divisions.
"We need to work together to be sure we're doing what's right for our children and the community," she said.
Then she took off her cowboy hat and waved it in the air. "Yahoo, we won!" Cake came next.
Challenger Steve Donaldson, a Gulf High social studies teacher, had a strong showing of supporters waving signs and promoting their candidate outside polling places.
But the effort did not translate into the victory that he had hoped for.
"I'm a little disappointed," Donaldson said from his election party. Still, he called his vote tally of about 47 percent a "moral victory" and said he would continue to work for education. "I'll do everything I can to keep positive improvement of the schools," he said, refusing to rule out a rematch in four years.
Fiorentino became superintendent in 2004 after a bruising Republican primary battle against Chuck Rushe, whom retiring district chief John Long had picked as his successor. She then easily won the general election.
During her term, she engendered some ill will among employees, who argued she did not consider their views when making decisions. When Donaldson, a teacher, jumped into the race, the association quickly threw its support behind him.
The campaign that followed focused heavily on leadership and morale issues. Fiorentino ran on her record of accomplishments, while Donaldson argued that the district could be better with a superintendent who collaborates more regularly.
Many voters who turned out Tuesday knew little about the superintendent's race. Some, though, said they studied the candidates.
"It shouldn't just be about the president," said Brent Coleman, 29, a substitute teacher and college student from Wesley Chapel. "We've got to take care of our community also."
Coleman wouldn't say who he supported for superintendent. But Anne Cimador, 63, a retired educator from Land O'Lakes, voted for Fiorentino.
"Change may be good," she said, "but let's not fix what is not broken."