LAND O'LAKES — The Pasco County School Board got a total makeover in Tuesday's election.
Three new members will join the board, as no incumbents sought re-election.
The biggest margin of victory came in District 5, where Steve Luikart defeated developer Mark Swartsel by nearly 20,000 votes. Luikart, a retired assistant principal, will replace Frank Parker, who retired after one term.
"The only thing I can do is thank the voters," Luikart said. "Obviously, they want somebody with an education background to help lead the district. I appreciate their support to do that."
Real estate agent and former teacher Cynthia Armstrong beat developer Mike Ryan by just over 10,000 votes to win District 3. Armstrong replaces Cathi Martin, who retired after three terms representing the southwest corner of the county.
"I am so excited," Armstrong said. "I am really looking forward to being on the School Board. It's something I have dreamed of for a long time."
In District 4, real estate marketing director Alison Crumbley defeated hotel sales director Karen King in the race to complete the final two years of Kathryn Starkey's term. Starkey resigned to run for a seat in the Florida House of Representatives.
Crumbley said she was gratified to have received the backing of voters all over Pasco County. While thrilled with her victory, Crumbley said the evening was tinged with sadness.
"I can't help but think about Dorothy Mitchell right now, and her passing," she said. "This was her seat many years ago. … It makes me sad that she's not here. I send my best thoughts and prayers to (her family) right now."
Mrs. Mitchell, who served on the School Board from 1978-98, died Sunday at age 82 after a lengthy illness.
As candidates, the newly elected members regularly repeated that they did not have all the answers to many detailed questions surrounding budgets, employee morale and related matters.
They'll have two weeks to get up to speed.
They will be sworn into office Nov. 16. Almost immediately, the board will face some key issues, including unsettled contract negotiations and crowding concerns at some Wesley Chapel-area schools.
District staffers provided six weeks' worth of information sessions on several topics, such as planning, hiring and student discipline, to help prepare each of the candidates. Most of the hopefuls also regularly attended board meetings and workshops for several months leading up to the election.
Each of the winners announced plans to run in the spring and spent a lot of time getting immersed in the details of the district. Their campaigns remained relatively low-key through the primaries and the general election, with most comments on issues and not attacks.
Armstrong said she enjoyed being able to go out and talk about the issues without having to worry about political smears.
"It was nice knowing you can go out … and put your agenda out there and let the voters decide," she said, praising Ryan for running a fair and honest campaign.
The most high-profile dispute came in the District 5 race, in which Swartsel attempted to paint Luikart as beholden to teachers union interests and as opposed to accepting federal stimulus funding. Luikart flatly rejected Swartsel's depiction and then fired back that his opponent, a developer, had little knowledge of the system at a time when an intimate understanding of the district's inner workings is key.
Luikart said he looked forward to the end of the race, so he can focus on being a public servant.
"I am not a good politician," he said.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.