SEBRING — The eight candidates who are vying for two seats on the School Board of Highlands County have spent a record total of $67,917 in their campaigns so far, according to data from the Highlands County Supervisor of Elections.
The elections office’s latest report, ending Aug. 8, also shows a record total for school board campaign contributions of $88,010.
It’s getting more expensive to run for school board, observed Wendy Renfro, who served on the board from 1998 until 2006.
“I think you will find with an open-seat election they spend a lot more money,” she said. “There is a tendency for more candidates and they have to spend more.”
Renfro noted when she ran for the board it was a partisan race. She was elected in the Republican primary because she had no Democratic opposition.
Now, school board elections are nonpartisan and candidates have to attract voters from both parties, making it costlier to run, she said.
Refro recalls spending around $2,400 when she was first elected in 1994.
By saving her 4-by-4 foot signs from the 1994 election, she spent less money in 1998, around $1,200.
“I focused more on getting out and meeting people and talking to people,” Renfro said. “I had signs and people thought I had a lot more signs than I actually did because they were strategically located. I think we had 18 total.”
Refro was unopposed in 2002.
Former school board member Andy Tuck, who now serves on the State Board of Eduction, said, “I think it’s great that so many people are interested in our school system and are willing to put their money up to back a candidate.”
The District 5 race has five candidates vying for a seat with no elected incumbent. Gov. Rick Scott appointed Jill Compton to fill the seat that was vacated by Tuck after he was appointed by Scott to serve on the State Board of Education.
The total campaign contributions (monetary and in-kind contributions) for the District 5 race reported by the candidates to the Highlands County Supervisor of Elections are as follows:
•Jill Compton - $15,990.
•Clinton Culverhouse - $10,597.
•William “Pep” Hutchinson, III - $10,515.
•Trevor Murphy - $15,450.
•William “Tres” Stephenson III - $17,368.
The total campaign contributions reported by the candidates for the District 1 School Board Seat are as follows:
•Charlene Edwards - $8,640.
•Al Joe Hinson - $5,563.
•Ronnie Jackson - $3887.
Highlands Today reported in May that in the five previous school board races, the candidate with the higher total finances won - In 2012, for District 3, Janet Shoop ($15,300) defeated MaryAnn Lewis ($2,779); 2010 District 1, Ronnie Jackson ($7,541) defeated Olivia Scott (($5,315); 2010 District 4, William “Bill” Brantley ($8,875) defeated Richard Norris ($5,750); 2006 District 1 Wally Randall ($5,830) defeated Alvin Conner ($3,291) and 2006 District 5, Andy Tuck ($14,840) defeated Chet Brojek ($7,510).
For comparison, the two candidates for the only contested school board seat in Okeechobee County have spent a total of $2,590.
District 1 incumbent Joe Arnold has reported donations totaling $5,883. Challenger Cheryl Kirton has reported donations totaling $3,629.