The former head of the Hernando County Education Foundation, and mother of three children in the school system, is taking on a retired businessman and husband of a county commissioner for the open District 3 seat on the Hernando County School Board.
With incumbent Dianne Bonfield bowing out of the race after initially filing to run for re-election, the contest between Beth Narverud and Jay Rowden has become one of the tightest and most up for grabs this year. Although Rowden arguably has better name recognition, Narverud has extensive ties to the business community and is involved in a number of education organizations.
Both have pulled in more campaign dollars than any of the other School Board candidates, with Rowden having a small edge.
The two-person race will be decided in the Aug. 26 primary.
Narverud, 50, has a platform that stems from her experience as a parent, business owner and community member.
Her top priorities: addressing the budget, improving communication with the community, creating practical career and technical programs, and improving technology.
"I think we can do a better job than we've been doing for our students," Narverud said. "I will do everything in my power to make sure we have the education system we want for our kids."
That's what she tried to do as executive director of the education foundation, a nonprofit that raises money for Hernando schools, she said.
She found an extremely supportive community, she said, but school doors often seemed closed or full of roadblocks.
She recalled a time when she had a $5,000 check to give the district to support homeless students, but nobody would see her. She also remembered another occasion when a school simply failed to unlock a closet filled with clothes and supplies for needy and homeless students that had been provided by the foundation.
"We need to change the way some things are done here," she said.
When it comes to the budget, Narverud, the owner of a local Domino's Pizza franchise, believes the district needs to be a better steward of the public's money.
She said the district needs to identify cost savings that can be redirected into classrooms. She said she also believes the district can improve services without increasing costs.
Narverud said she has identified a lot of areas of waste, including printing, purchasing and energy usage.
Narverud supports the penny sales tax referendum that will be on the ballot in November. She is opposed to restoring the county's educational impact fee at this point, calling it an unreliable source of funding. She says she would lobby legislators for more funding and work with businesses to obtain grants.
She said she has a strong vested interest in improving education in Hernando.
"For me, this position is personal and important for all of our children," she said. "This is not a job for a political dynasty."
Narverud has pulled in $14,141 and endorsements from state Sen. Wilton Simpson, state Rep. Jimmie Smith, Hernando Clerk of Court Don Barbee and former school superintendent Bryan Blavatt.
Rowden, 70, believes the district needs someone who can step in and tackle the big issues, improving the district's gloomy financial outlook and lobbying for the school system in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C.
He believes he could provide that leadership.
Before retiring, Rowden built his company, Rowden International Machinery, into a global enterprise. He believes it gave him the ability to synthesize complex issues and the experience to help lead the district.
"I think that what we need to do is something dramatic to keep it going," he said. "Time is not our friend. If you're going to turn this around, I don't think necessarily that you can do it locally."
He said he would need to inspire School Board members to start working with people at the highest levels in the state and the national capitals.
As part of that effort, he would like to hire a full-time lobbyist. He said he's been impressed with how effective lobbyists have been in bringing money to Hernando County government.
"They have so many different channels to access people," he said.
Rowden said he would also seek grants and other funding sources from both private and public sources.
The board is suffering from a lack of leadership, Rowden said.
"There doesn't seem to be any sort of leadership or aggressive push to do anything," he said.
One example: The district is only asking for a 10-year sales tax.
He thinks the School Board should have gone for a 20- or 30-year tax, which would have given the district greater bonding capability.
Rowden is no stranger to county politics, but being a candidate is something of a change. For years, he's been in the background as his wife, Diane, has run for office.
Jay Rowden said he decided to file after his wife suggested it and he heard that Blavatt, the former superintendent, was considering a run for the board — Rowden thought that was a bad idea. He said he began to notice a number of issues that needed attention.
"I started realizing that this whole thing is a train wreck," he said. "Not only Hernando County, but the whole state system. There doesn't seem to be any sort of effort on the part of Tallahassee — or Washington, for that matter — to support public education."
Rowden thinks he can change that.
"I wouldn't do this unless I thought I could make a difference," he said.
Rowden has raised more money than any other candidate in the three School Board races, pulling in $16,000. He has secured endorsements from the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association and Bonfield.
Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432. Follow @HernandoTimes.