LAKEWOOD RANCH -- In a runoff election, school board chair Julie Aranibar lost to challenger Mary Cantrell, the former director of Manatee Technical Institute.
Cantrell, who took more than 46 percent of the vote, took the lead early and the gap never closed. Aranibar, who was first elected to the school board in 2010, took 40 percent of the ballots cast.
Cantrell, the former head of MTI, is a first-time candidate. Cantrell, who was head of MTI for nearly two decades, focused on improving education and standing up for teachers.
"I want teachers to feel safe
to take chances," Cantrell said after her victory Tuesday night. "I want to work to change this culture of testing, testing, testing. I want to give more opportunities to more children."
Aranibar conceded the election at 8:30 p.m. with all but one of the precincts reporting.
"She wished me good luck," Cantrell told her supporters.
Cantrell's supporters said they appreciated her focus on the issues and refusal to run a negative campaign.
"This was definitely a grassroots movement from people who care the most about our schools," said Minnie King, who signed on early to support Cantrell's campaign.
Aranibar, who was surrounded by a small group of supporters at Popi's Place on the Ranch throughout the night, took the loss in stride, joking with supporters she'd have more time to golf now.
"It is what it is," she said.
Throughout the night, Aranibar and her supporters had eyes glued to their phones and other mobile devices, checking on the updates and discussing some of the other elections.
With only 61 precincts reporting, Aranibar contemplated calling Cantrell to concede, but was advised not to.
As she headed to her car to leave for the night, Aranibar thanked supporters for coming out.
"I'm on to my next chapter," she said.
Aranibar has already served her last meeting as board chair.
There's a workshop this week on board bylaws and the next meeting is the reorganization meeting, in which Cantrell will be sworn in.
The race drew interest countywide and sharp criticism from supporters of both camps. In the primary, Aranibar earned about 35 percent of the primary vote and Cantrell earned 33 percent, according to the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections website.
District 5 candidates come from the eastern part of the county, but once elected, board members represent the entire school district.
The race is nonpartisan and registered voters throughout the county can vote in the race.
"I am so excited," Cantrell said. "I am so grateful to my supporters."
Since the primary, the candidates have differed on a number of district issues, including measuring the district's academic achievements.
Aranibar championed the improvements the district has made and said the district is on the right track to keep improving. Cantrell said it is not nearly enough and that local control in individual schools and classrooms would make a change.
In August, voters re-elected Karen Carpenter to the District 4 seat over challenger Frank Brunner and chose Charlie Kennedy, a teacher at Manatee High School, over Rodney Jones in the District 2 race after Barbara Harvey decided not to seek re-election.