With Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer‘s endorsement of Orange County School board member Nancy Robbinson to be the board’s chair, the election has turned into a high-stakes battle.
On the steps of Orlando City Hall Wednesday, Dyer endorsed Robbinson, a bit of a protégé, for the countywide chair position amidst expectations that Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs is about to announce her candidacy for the post.
Dyer’s endorsement begins setting the sides in what could be a contest between Robbinson, popular among downtown leaders, and Jacobs, broadly popular among countywide voters, for the uniquely powerful schools seat.
“We all know that great schools are the backbone of every community. They reflect our community’s belief that educating our young people and developing tomorrow’s leaders is a wise investment in the future of our community. But great schools don’t just happen…. without great school boards,” Dyer said.
“Nancy is an experienced education leader that our community needs as its next school board chair. I’m honored to endorse Nancy Robbinson as the next Orange County School Board chair,” Dyer said Wednesday.
Robbinson got her start in education leadership when Dyer appointed her to his Mayor’s Public Education Action Council in 2003, and then she served on the school board for 10 years, starting in 2008, representing north-central Orange County in District 6.
“I am just as passionate today about public education as when I first ran for the school board. And I still firmly believe that public education has to deliver a high-quality education experience for every student,” Robbinson said.
She pledged she would continue momentum that she said she helped create, seeking to continue to harden the schools for safety, focus on individual student achievement, pursue more pre-school options, and support teachers.
She would not say that she would change anything of the agenda set by current School Board Chair Bill Sublette, but said she would be available to treat the post as a full-time job unlike Sublette, an attorney.
The transition will be a critical time, she said, because at least four and perhaps five of the current seven district seats on the school board will have new members.
“I’m positive that I am the right person to guide this new and changing school board toward functioning at a high level, and I am ready for this leadership role,” she said.
Sublette is stepping down after two terms as the only county-wide elected school board chair Orange County has had since the position was created. In addition to Robbinson, School Board Members Joie Cadle, Daryl Flynn, and Christine Moore are not running for another term, while Linda Kobert is seeking re-election.
Robbinson has two opponents already, Robert Allen Prater of Orlando and Matthew Fitzpatrick of Apopka. The race would take a decidedly different level and tone, however, if Jacobs opts in. The two-term mayor, a former county commissioner, won both of her countywide elections by landslides, though she’s never enjoyed the high regard of the downtown Orlando leadership community that tends to rally around Dyer.
Robbinson said she does not expect to change her approach if Jacobs gets in.
“I am hearing rumors that she is planning to file. Like I tell people, it’s always a rumor until she’s actually gone to the Supervisor of Elections to file to run for the office,” Robbinson said. “The way I plan to respond if she were to file is to continue my campaign just as I am, and be the obvious choice for the Orange County School Board chair position because I have 10 years of educational experience, and I have been representing the community and fighting for children and public education the entire time.”
Dyer said it makes no difference to him whether Jacobs files for the post.
“It doesn’t affect my support for Nancy Robbinson one bit,” Dyer said. “She’s done a great job in 10 years with the school district. She’ll do a super job as school board chair and I will support her all the way through.”