The Santa Rosa County School Board has one new member to help guide the school district through what is likely to be a transformative period of growth, and a second new board member is expected to be determined after a recount later this week.
For the District 2 seat, challenger Elizabeth Hewey defeated incumbent Clifton “Buddy” Hinote, garnering 53.78% of the votes, or 18,209 ballots, in Tuesday’s primary elections. Hinote received 46.22% of the votes (15,651 ballots).
A second race for the school board District 4 seat between Felicia Fortune Northcutt and Charles Elliott was close enough to trigger an automatic recount, which will take place Saturday, according to the Santa Rosa County Supervisor of Elections.
A difference of 46 votes divided the two candidates, according to the latest figures available as of Wednesday morning. According to the unofficial numbers, out of 33,338 total votes cast in the race, Elliot finished with 16,692, or 50.07%, and Northcutt had 16,646 votes, or 49.93%.
A recount automatically takes place when there is a margin of less than 0.5%.
Hewey, a former marketing executive and teacher, will join the five-person school board and a new superintendent to assist the school district in navigating through the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic that has caused mass disruptions to the education system.
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At the same time, the school board will play a large role in managing a district is continuing to grow, with plans to build additional schools and cope with problems stemming from a lack of classroom space.
In response to a News Journal questionnaire sent to local candidates, Hewey wrote that one of her top priorities as a new school board member would be the pursuit of additional learning opportunities for Santa Rosa County students.
“I support monthly school board workshops, open to the public, focused on fiscal topics to gather new ideas with updated skills and collaborative community partnerships,” Hewey wrote. “As an example, one fiscal topic could be a 5+2=7 Learning Opportunities Initiative Task Force involving representatives from stakeholder groups exploring research that shows the Santa Rosa School District can offer more learning opportunities and more security with no additional instructional staff.”
She noted in her questionnaire that she plans to lobby hard for better pay for teachers.
“Salaries need to be top priorities with expense tracking closely monitored and legislative lobbying strategies pursued so that competitive pay raises can be awarded,” Hewey wrote.
Her opponent’s campaign saw some controversy in February when outgoing Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick sent a letter to teachers asking them to support Hinote’s campaign and donate money if they could.
Colin Warren-Hicks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 850-435-8680.