SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. — G-O-P supporters in Sarasota County celebrated what they described as a major victory for public education in the county.
Voters in the Republican-leaning county flipped the school board Tuesday night from a 3-2 liberal majority to a 4- 1 conservative majority. Three seats were up grabs with all three won by conservative candidates who were also endorsed by Governor Ron DeSantis.
“I think we would have won anyway but he got people out to vote and said how important this is and so it was just a thrill,” said Robyn Marinelli, one of the newly elected conservatives to the board. Marinelli will join newly elected candidate Tim Enos on the board and incumbent Bridgett Ziegler, who kept her seat for a third term.
“We have so many people that are frustrated and just want to reset and focus on education and that’s what they’re going to get,” said Ziegler.
Across the state, conservative candidates backed by DeSantis and other conservative groups also helped flip the school political power structure in a few other counties including Duval and Miami-Dade, the state’s largest school district.
The power flips in a non-partisan race shows the strength of Governor DeSantis’ power and influence over voters and conservative education policies in Florida. Of the 30 school board candidates he endorsed, 25 either won their elections or are headed to a November runoff.
DeSantis’ involvement, which also included donations to school board candidates by his political action committee, is highly unusual for a Governor and was a risk that paid off, according to FL GOP Vice-Chair Christian Ziegler, who is married to Bridget Ziegler of Sarasota’s school board.
“He put out his agenda and these candidates that he endorsed all supported that agenda. The voters said we stand with the Governor on his agenda,” said Ziegler adding, “I think the results are a great indication, they not only embrace and support the Governor but they will fight for the DeSantis agenda.”
DeSantis’s education policies are often described as part of the ‘parents rights’ movement, made popular by conservative moms group, Moms for Liberty. The group was formed during the pandemic by moms frustrated by school district mask mandates and made winning school board races a top priority. Dozens of its own members were among some of the candidates backed by DeSantis, though not all of them won.
But, overall, the group is celebrating. According to co-founder Tina Descovitch, of 65 candidates individual Florida chapters supported, 43 won or earned enough votes to go to a runoff.
“It’s the year of the parent and we’ve been saying that since January 1,” Descovitch said in response to the wins.
Descovitch also explained what these wins will mean for parents, teachers and students in those respective school districts.
“It means parents will play more of a role or have the opportunity to play more of a role in the decision-making about children
But in a state that has already placed limits on books available to students and has restricted classroom discussion over race, sex and gender identity, critics fear what’s next.
“There are some places where some candidates won on a premise that they were going to essentially shut down some aspects of what we do in education, and that they want to interfere with that sacred bond that exists between parents and teachers. I hope that’s not true,“ said Andrew Spar, President of Florida’s teachers union, which leans more liberal.
“I think you're going to find school board members that will ensure that districts are following the law,” said Descovitch. “You have seen in the past two years districts that have been pushing back against the law and violating the law. You’re going to find districts that are going to work to comply with the law,” she said.