Who is running for Palm Beach County School Board? Inside the crowded August races (2023)

Giuseppe Sabella,Katherine Kokal|Palm Beach Post

WEST PALM BEACH —Fourteen candidates are vying for four seats on the Palm Beach CountySchool Board, whichsets policies and oversees billions of dollars forthe 10thlargest school districtin the United States.

And though school board races are nonpartisan, meaningcandidates' partyaffiliations are left off the ballot, the push to fill school board seats has become increasingly political.

During a news conference in March, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Florida residents often overlooked school board elections. But not this year, he continued, predicting a "huge amount of voter interest" and calling school board races "some of the most important elections we're able to vote on."

"I don't know that I've ever got involved in school board races before, but we'll be involved this year," the governor said.

Statewide organizations, including the Florida Republican Party’s Build the Bench Committee, have been hard at work recruiting and training school board candidates.

Meanwhile,parents and other Floridians — some with no children in their school district — are attendingboard meetings for the first time, making their politics known as theyargueover students' health, safety and education.

(Video) Several outspoken parents challenging incumbents in Palm Beach County School Board races

Hours of heated public comment have unfolded during the COVID-19 pandemic, as Palm Beach County residentseither praised or admonished the school board for implementing mask mandates and recommending vaccines.

After repeated tragedies, such as the recent shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, families have debated whether schools should focus more on mental health resources, firearms regulationsorphysical safety measures on campuses.

And legislation spearheaded by the governor, including laws that restrict certain lessons or conversations on race, sexism, gender identity and sexual orientation, have ignited controversies about school curriculum.

Read more: With Ron DeSantis stoking culture war issues, school boards emerge as major Florida battleground

Local school board candidates have made priorities out of those issues, among others, and the victors could sway hot-button issues that affect about 190,000 students and more than 20,000 employees in the Palm Beach County School District.

Three incumbents are running for re-election, and one seat, currently held by Debra Robinson, is open.

When are the school board elections in Palm Beach County?

The filing window for the school board election closed Friday at noon.Board members serve four-year terms and are elected on a rotating basis.

Four districts — 3, 4, 6 and 7 — are up for grabs this year, and all Palm Beach County voters, regardless of party affiliation, can vote in the school board elections as long as they live in the district being decided.

Candidates will face off in the primary election on Tuesday, Aug. 23, and if they fail tosecure a majority of the vote, the top two will appear on the general election ballot Nov. 8.

Stay with The Palm Beach Post for an in-depth analysis of each candidate coming Sunday, June 26.

All candidates below are listed in alphabetical order, using the names that will appear on the ballot.

(Video) 2 Palm Beach County School Board races go to runoff election

Here's who is running in each district:

District 3 - West Boynton and Delray Beach

Karen Brill:A 65-year-old broker associate with The Keyes Company and alongtime advocate for students with disabilities, Brill has served on the school board since 2010. Brillpreviously did marketing workfor RCA Records and Forbes Inc. in New York, and she later worked as a marketing manager atDeutsche Bankin Florida.She lives in unincorporated Palm Beach County west of Boynton Beach.

Her priorities includea boost in parent participation, school safety measures, vocational programs, technology accessand student achievement, along with the effective management of the district's $4.1 billion budget.

Connor Frontera: A 29-year-old law clerk and the owner of Frugal Tutors Inc., Frontera lives in unincorporated Palm Beach County west of Lantana and ispursuing his Juris Doctor degree atNova Southeastern University's Shepard Broad College of Law.

His priorities includereforming curriculum, eliminating critical race theory, enhancing fiscal responsibility and protecting parents'right to free speech and medical freedom.

Bailey "Fiona's Mom" K. Lashells: A 38-year-old mother and the owner of a photography business in Lake Worth.Lashellsdescribes herself as "the only candidate with a direct line to the governor's office." She and her daughter, Fiona, made headlines and public appearances with DeSantis after Fiona refused to wear a mask in her elementary school, leading to nearly 40 days of suspensions last year.

Lashells'priorities includeopposing critical race theory and promoting the work of The 1776 Commission, a group established by former President Donald Trump with the goal of "restoring patriotic education that teaches the truth about America." Lashells also opposes medical mandates and supports more fiscal responsibility and general transparency in the district.

Kristen Marie Stevenson: A 41-year-old, full-time mother of four children and the wife of a Navy SEAL, Stevenson lives in unincorporated Palm Beach County west of Boca Raton. Stevenson, who holds a master's degree in education, previously worked as a classroom teacher and volleyball coach in New York, and she later worked in digital education consultingfor Cengage Learning.

Her priorities includethe hiring of bus drivers, the expansion of language programs, increased parental involvement, more budget transparency, stronger school safety, healthier food options in schoolsand greater collaboration between the district and community. Stevenson's website also decries mask mandates and conversations about gender, race or sexual orientation in elementary schools.

District 4 - Coastal West Palm Beach and Boca Raton

Angelique Contreras:A 32-year-old homemaker who is a certified insurance broker, Contreras lives in unincorporated Palm Beach County just south of Palm Springs. She is known for vocally denouncing county commissioners' mask mandate in 2020 and for being present at theviolent insurrection Jan. 6, 2021at the U.S. Capitol.

State and federal court records show she has never been charged with any crime in connection with the insurrection,and Contreras has told local media that shedid not enter the Capitol building.

(Video) Parents' voices heard in Palm Beach County School Board election

Her top campaign priorities include codifying parents' rights in education, removing "anti-American" materials from the curriculumand equipping police officers to protect schools.

Erica Whitfield: A 44-year-old former Palm Beach County Health Department employee, Whitfield holds a master's degree in public health from Emory University in Atlanta. She has served on the school board since 2014andlives in Lake WorthBeach. She was the wellness coordinator for the school district's food department.

Her top campaign priorities are financial responsibility, making sure students and teachers are safe at school, addressing student homelessness, supporting student and staff mental healthand improving literacy.

District 6 - The Glades, Royal Palm Beach and Wellington

Marcia Andrews: A 72-year-old former principal and founder of Up Front Consulting,Andrews has served on the school board since 2010. She lives in Royal Palm Beach. Andrews has worked as the chief officer of recruitment, the chief personnel officer, an area superintendent and as a lead instruction specialist for the school district.

Her top campaign priorities are increasing reading performance amongyounger elementary students, addressing unfinished learning caused by the pandemic, expanding mental and behavioral health programs in schools and ensuring student and staff safety.

Jeff Browning:A 66-year-old real estate agent at Darrell Bowen Realty and former general contractor, Browning lives in Wellington and has coached youth sports for 20 years.

His top campaign priorities are merging school police with thePalm Beach County Sheriff's Office to secure schools, establishing a parent advisory committee to brainstorm ideas to bring to the school boardand ensuring financial accountability.

V. Deanne Ewers:A 53-year-old English and reading teacher at Lake Worth High School, Ewers lives in Loxahatchee. She wrote a book titled “Great Women in Bahamian History: Bahamian Women Pioneers” that was published in 2013.

Her top campaign priorities are creating a program in schools that "bridges the divide" between police and students of color, establishing a workforce track in high schools for students who do not want to go to college, school and school bus safetyand equity between school campus resources and equipment.

Jennifer Lynn Miller Showalter:A 47-year-old graphic designer, Showalter lives in Wellington. She has vocally denounced the "over sexualization" of students in the district and says that political "indoctrination" impacts their academic performance.

Her top campaign priorityis addressing whatshe calls "the gross overreach and disregard of students, parents and teachers, which has led to ignoring individual and parental rights." She said she wants to rebuild transparency and communication between the board and parents in the district.

(Video) Palm Beach County School District welcomes more than 600 new teachers

Amanda Silvestri: A 37-year-old homemaker and mother of two elementary school students, Silvestri lives in Wellington.

Her top campaign priorities include enforcing financial responsibility by the school board, securing schools, implementing anti-bullying measures and collaborating with parents to lead the school district.

District 7 - Eastern West Palm Beach and Riviera Beach

Edwin Ferguson: A 45-year-old attorney at The Ferguson Firm and a former teacher, Fergusonpreviously ran for the school board in 2018 and lost to incumbent Debra Robinson, who is not running for re-election. He lives in West Palm Beach.

His priorities include helping students recover from the school closures and other disruptions caused by COVID-19, increasing kindergarten readiness, strengthening school safety, hiring and retaining high-quality teachersand preparing high-school graduates for careers or further education,whether that be college or vocational school.

Christopher Persaud: A 33-year-old elementary school teacher, Persaud lives in West Palm Beach. He recently made headlines for a trespassing conviction that followed his arrest in October, when he refused to wear a mask and then refused to leave campus.

His priorities includeuplifting parents' voices, ensuring families have a right to make health-care decisions for their children, improving language curriculum, advocating for teachers and support employees, andstopping what he called"political indoctrination" and "ungodly policies" in schools.

Corey Michael Smith: A 50-year-old father, attorney and former associate counsel for the school district, Smith lives in Riviera Beach.

His priorities include hosting quarterly town halls in the community, advocating for parents and district employees, closing the achievement gaps in early education, strengthening the school-to-workforce pipeline, expanding mental health services, decreasing bullyingand forming more partnerships with community leaders and businesses.

Giuseppe Sabella and Katherine Kokal are education reporters for The Palm Beach Post. You can reach Giuseppe at gsabella@pbpost.com and Katherine at kkokal@pbpost.com. Support local journalism. Subscribe today.

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