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Two Hernando School Board incumbents survive; third headed for runoff

BROOKSVILLE — Two Hernando School Board incumbents fended off challengers Tuesday, and a third is headed for a runoff in November.

In the District 1 race, first-term incumbent John Sweeney won a commanding victory over his lone opponent, Nilsa Colon Toro, taking nearly 66 percent of the 20,226 nonpartisan votes cast.

In District 3, first-term incumbent Dianne Bonfield won with 56.4 percent of the vote over Keane Chapman.

And in District 5, four-term incumbent Sandra Nicholson garnered 38.6 percent of the vote in a three-way race and will now face Cynthia Moore, who took 32.7 percent, in November. The third candidate, Mike Bainum, got 28.6 percent.

Nicholson said the race turned out as she expected.

"I thank everybody that supported me," she said Tuesday night as she waited for the last two precincts to trickle in at the elections office in the Hernando County Government Center. "Tell your friends."

As in past campaigns, Nicholson tried to convince voters that a work history lacking in education experience was a benefit. The 62-year-old former office manager for an engineering firm said her business experience complemented the perspective of former educators on the board and has helped save the district money.

She said the district needs to increase its vocational offerings and touted her efforts to keep abreast of state issues through the Florida School Boards Association.

Moore, 68, campaigned on a resume that features more than four decades of experience in the district as a teacher, summer school principal and volunteer. She served for a time as president of the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association.

Bainum, a 48-year-old former restaurant manager who has taught culinary arts at Hernando High for six years, contended that his resume combined the strengths of each of his opponents.

Neither Sweeney nor Bonfield returned messages seeking comment Tuesday night.

During his campaign, the 47-year-old Sweeney touted his experience as a former teacher and cast himself as a successful incumbent with the knowledge and drive needed for the job. Currently the owner of a wine bar in Spring Hill, Sweeney said he would work to bring teacher salaries up to levels near those of surrounding districts, lobby the state for more money for the county, and work to make the school rezoning process less painful.

Colon-Toro, a 62-year-old receptionist at Springstead High School and former English for Speakers of Other Languages professional, tried to sway voters by emphasizing her 20 years with the Hernando district, which she said gave her a perspective from the trenches that was sorely needed on the board.

Bonfield, a 61-year-old retired teacher, cast herself as an advocate for children and taxpayers who had achieved some success in her platform from four years ago, which included reducing the number of portable classrooms.

Bonfield has said her goal for the next four years is to reduce or eliminate the number of double classrooms and to ensure a fair and smooth rezoning process ahead of the opening of the new K-8 school north of Weeki Wachee next fall. She wants better mentor opportunities for staffers to develop leaders from within, and she said she would push for an internal audit of non-core positions such as assessment teachers to see if some can be shifted to teach core subjects.

Chapman, a 41-year-old national sales manager for Alumi-Guard in Brooksville, said Bonfield had failed to show leadership and told voters that his business skills could help the district through budget difficulties expected in the next few years.

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or tmarrero@sptimes.com.

Two Hernando School Board incumbents survive; third headed for runoff 08/24/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 24, 2010 11:21pm]
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