Parent-activist Laura Hine grabbed a strong early lead Tuesday against private school teacher Stephanie Meyer in the race for an open at-large seat on the Pinellas County School Board, and held it all evening long.
With all precincts counted, but some mail votes remaining, Hine held firm to 56 percent of the vote compared to 44 percent for Meyer.
“I’m very excited,” Hine said. “I feel humbled and I feel grateful that the people of Pinellas have asked me to serve in this role. I’m excited to do the work.”
She said she hoped to promote ways to “do better by our teachers,” expecting improvements there would benefit students and schools in positive ways. She also wanted to use her position to advocate for changes in high-stakes testing.
“I’m mostly excited about those kinds of things,” Hine said.
Though a non-partisan position, the race to replace Joanne Lentino, who did not seek reelection, generated high interest from political parties.
Hine, 45, had strong endorsements from within the education community and garnered support from many prominent Democrats. She built her campaign on the need to bolster the public schools, pointing to her own efforts to help North Shore Elementary attract more parents willing to take an active role in the school.
Meyer, 38, found backing within conservative Republican and religious groups. She offered more support for vouchers and other school choice options that have played a key role in the Republican Party education agenda.
Both candidates tried to steer talk away from party line conversations, instead aiming to focus on their roles as parents and community activists with a deep concern for children’s education. They agreed on some key issues, such as the need to reduce testing and the manner in which the district responded to the coronavirus.
But both faced pressure and criticism within the social media world where the campaign largely took place.
Hine took hits for having recently left the Republican Party, for instance, while Meyer received disapproval from some for her connection to a religious school, Keswick Christian.
They also differed on some hot-button issues, including school choice.
Hine, who runs the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art, led in fundraising, collecting nearly double the amount that Meyer received. In a countywide election between two first-time candidates, such money can help generate name recognition through signs, mailers and online advertising.
Hine will be one of two new members to join the seven-member board, which oversees Florida’s eighth-largest school system, serving about 101,000 children with a budget of $1.6 billion. Members have four-year terms and are paid $46,630 a year.
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