Nonpartisan school board races may look more partisan when the votes roll in Tuesday, but maybe not?


Gov. Ron DeSantis has broken the mold by endorsing candidates in local school board races who would connect with his conservative ideology, even though the boards are supposed to be nonpartisan.

But with primary election day approaching Tuesday, Floridians will see whether the high-profile endorsements will add a partisan layer to school boards or maintain the longstanding status quo.

DeSantis, a Republican, is doing his best to get local communities to rally behind some of his handpicked candidates, likely a way to block school board candidates the governor says are left-leaning progressives. Over the weekend, DeSantis attended campaign rallies for several local board races he has endorsed in recent weeks. In all, DeSantis has endorsed 30 candidates, according to his political campaign at

Meanwhile, following the lead of Democratic gubernatorial candidate DeSantis, U.S. Rep. Charlie Christ, released its own set of school board endorsements in July. Crist is in a Democratic primary on Tuesday.

On Sunday, DeSantis’ campaign Twitter page posted a photo of him at a campaign rally in Sarasota, with the comment: “Sarasota County parents are ready to elect school board members who will make sure our schools provide a great education for our children, not one woke up indoctrination. Thank you to everyone who came to join us today!” He had a similar post on the Twitter campaign for Volusia, Miami-Dade and Duval counties.

“To my knowledge, we haven’t seen a governor travel around the state and hold rallies for local races other than for the state legislature,” he said. Andrea Messina, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association. “I haven’t seen this level of involvement and commitment from the executive office until this year.”

“We have seen before that the Legislature, on several occasions, during the last few years, introduced legislation to make school board seats partisan. We know that’s something that’s been on the agenda for a while … I’m sure we’ll see it again this session,” Messina told the Phoenix.

She continued: “What you’re seeing right now, because it’s not yet partisan, there’s still some degree of retention. But if we had a partisan election, you’d see more activity, more direct activity, from both political parties in this election on the school board … I think we would see more partisan positions in policy and in school board discussions and debates, more open party-affiliated positions.”

But some worry that DeSantis’ endorsements set a “dangerous” precedent Robin Taub Williams, former educator and chair of the Manasota Democratic Public Education Caucus, which focuses on education concerns in the Manatee-Sarasota area. The group has endorsed two Manatee school board candidates.

“I hope in the future we don’t see governors meddling in local school board elections and using them for culture wars, but that’s what’s happening right now,” Williams told the Phoenix.

Williams stressed that some of the heated and even hostile discussions at local school board meetings in his area, particularly in Sarasota County, are due in part to the education policies pushed by DeSantis and his supporters.

This includes efforts to ban books from school libraries through increased parental involvement, limiting certain classroom discussions about LGBTQ+ and American history, and promoting “parental rights” to decide whether a student can wear a mask to the school.

“I’m worried. I’m really worried because there’s a lot at stake here,” Williams said. “And I urge everyone to get out and vote, because this is not a normal school board race. Normal school board races are not about a national Republican political culture war agenda.”

Overall, Florida has 67 counties that contain their own school districts. Florida law requires each school district to have at least five school board members, although not all seats are available this election cycle.

DeSantis’ 30 candidates come from 19 school districts. According to the campaign, DeSantis chose these candidates because they are “committed to ensuring student success, parental rights and curriculum transparency.”

Through his political finance committee, each of the 30 candidates received $1,000 from the Friends of Ron DeSantis, as of Aug. 17, according to campaign finance data from the Florida Division of Elections.

According to his campaign team, DeSantis endorsed school board races in the following districts: Alachua (1), Brevard (2), Clay (1), Duval (2), Flagler (2), Hendry (1), Hillsborough (3) , Indian River (1), Lee (2), Miami-Dade (2), Manatee (3), Martin (1), Monroe (2), Pasco (1), Polk (1), Putnam (1 ), Sarasota (3) and Volusia (2). At least half a dozen of those school boards last fall were embroiled in a battle over mask mandates.

Crist has endorsed seven races spanning six counties: Hillsborough (2), Indian River (1), Lee (1), Marion (1), Pinellas (1) and Polk (1), according to Crist’s campaign.

In fact, DeSantis and Crist have endorsed opposing candidates, such as District 6 in Hillsborough County. Crist has endorsed member Sen. Karen Perez for re-election. In this same race, DeSantis has backed Aly Readswho has spoken at some of DeSantis’ press conferences in support of legislation banning certain race and gender teachings in Florida public schools.

District 2 in Hillsborough also has candidates who have been endorsed by Crist and DeSantis. The candidate chosen by the governor is the incumbent member of the school board Stacy Hahn. For Christ, he supported a former Hillsborough PTA president named Damaris Allenaccording to his campaign.

Indian River County’s District 2 is the latest district where Crist and DeSantis have endorsed opposing candidates, with DeSantis backing Jacqueline Rosario’s reelection to the board and Christ supporting the school board-hopeful Cindy Gibbsan educator

Because school board races are currently nonpartisan, any registered voter, regardless of party, will be able to vote for the school board member of their choice.

The Florida Democratic Party held a press conference Friday via Zoom to urge voters to pay attention to school board races and underscore the potential harm of having school board races heavily influenced by high-profile politicians, focusing- mainly DeSantis and his political ambitions.

“Public education will be on the ballot next Tuesday,” he said Scott Hottenstein in the Zoom conference. He has previously run unsuccessfully for a seat in the Florida House and is the chair of the Florida Democratic Public Education Caucus, part of the Florida Democratic Party.

candidate Justin Kennedywho is running for a school board position in Volusia County, worries that if DeSantis’ endorsement strategy is successful, other Republican governors will follow suit, he said at Friday’s Zoom conference.

“I fear that this strategy of dividing states and communities based on school board elections is spreading across the country,” he said Friday. “And that’s going to be a dark new day, if this becomes common across the country.”

One of the speakers at Friday’s virtual press conference was a Brevard school board member Jennifer Jenkins, who spoke about the changing political dynamic. Jenkins is considered a possible lieutenant governor of Christ, if he wins the Primary and beats DeSantis in November.

“It’s a much more hostile environment. You know, politics is really driving the conversation here,” Jenkins said Friday on the virtual conference. It was brought to light throughout the pandemic, when the Brevard County school board voted to implement the mandates of masks last fall, even though the DeSantis administration felt it should be a parental decision.

Jenkins gained national attention when he wrote a opinion piece published in October by the Washington Post, who described some of her experiences of protesters gathering outside her home to call her a pedophile and burning “FU” in her yard with weed killer.

During the press conference, Jenkins brought up an earlier legislative attempt to create partisan school board races, but the bill did not make it to the 2022 session.

“And now we see that Ron DeSantis is doing everything he can to circumvent that fact in order to make these races as partisan as possible,” he said.


Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of grant-supported newsrooms and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact editor Diane Rado for questions: [email protected]. Follow Florida Phoenix Facebook i Twitter.

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