Lee County voters seemingly declared their satisfaction with the Lee County School Board on Tuesday and re-elected two eight-year incumbents.
District 3 School Board candidate Jane Kuckel won about 64 percent of the vote over Raymond Rodrigues, who received about 36 percent, and District 2 candidate Jeanne Dozier earned about 57 percent over James A. Middlebrooks Jr., who took about 43 percent.
As such, Kuckel and Dozier will remain on the five-person board, which expects to have control of over $1.5 billion in taxpayer money this school year.
Both winners were ecstatic.
“Well, I just am very humbled by the citizens of Lee County and I appreciate their confidence in me, and I will serve with dedication and diligence in the next four years,” Dozier said. “I will always be open anytime.”
“I’m elated,” Kuckel said. “I appreciate the fact that folks in the community pay attention to what I’ve been doing on the board.”
Given the results, the voters were likely content with the academic progress, spending habits and school choice plan of the board.
Or were they?
In the weeks leading up to election day, Rodrigues and Middlebrooks were cheered and applauded during various forums for their promise to modify school choice and bring back neighborhood schools. More local endorsements rolled in for Rodrigues than for Kuckel.
In the end it comes down to the voters — folks like Bonita Springs resident Nona Landry, 75, who said she voted for Kuckel and Dozier.
“Because I really don’t know anything,” Landry said after voting. “It’s because I don’t read up on them. I’m not really a political person.”
If elected, many had suggested Rodrigues and Middlebrooks would have created a new board majority with member Bob Chilmonik, who often votes differently than the other members.
“Her comments really don’t surprise me,” Chilmonik said in reaction to Landry’s statement. “I would be surprised if most people who are voting even know who their School Board members are, and it’s because of the low priority placed on this election. The incumbents, unless they do something criminal, will be re-elected. She’s telling it like it is, people simply don’t know.”
Rodrigues said many factors played into his losing the race.
“The failure of the campaign was that we didn’t reach enough voters,” Rodrigues said, adding that he believed several factors led to incumbents in nearly all Lee County races being chosen, including low voter turnout, a high absentee ballot count and an election date before Labor Day. And the local media.
“If you have watched television or a number of newspapers — the Bonita Daily News is the exception — there just wasn’t a lot of coverage on the local races, period, with the exception of the sheriff’s candidate races. I think voters walked into that race knowing who the two candidates were,” Rodrigues said. “But for the rest of the races, I’m not sure where they would have gotten their information from.”
Middlebrooks was confident after hearing the results. He said there might be a lot of factors at play, but the only factors that matter are the ballots that were cast.
“I could say a whole lot of things, but that’s the wishes of the people if that’s what happened,” Middlebrooks said.
Chilmonik congratulated the winners and looked to the future.
“Congratulations to my colleagues for their great win,” Chilmonik said. “Now that the elections are over, I hope that we can focus in on our academic performance.” -- Matt Clark