A nonpartisan race for the Monroe County School Board’s District 5 seat has brought Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ endorsement of candidate Alexandria Suarez. 

In the past month, DeSantis announced his backing of 29 candidates running for school board seats across the state. The first round of endorsements came in June, when DeSantis announced his support for Darren Horan for Monroe County School Board District 1 representing Key West. 

On July 28, DeSantis issued his second round of endorsements of candidates. Suarez’s name was on the list. 

“It speaks to what I am trying to do, which is help our children get back on track and get our students back to learning academics and what they need to learn, not anything that doesn’t belong in the classroom,” Suarez said. 

DeSantis’ backing of candidates comes following a survey that gauged their stances on issues such as charter schools, critical race theory and masks. The survey, called The DeSantis Education Agenda: Putting Students First, Protecting Parents’ Rights, was sponsored by Friends of Ron DeSantis. 

“These 29 candidates are committed to advancing a bold education agenda in Florida,” DeSantis said. “Parents can rest easy knowing that these candidates will fully support their right as parents to ensure their children reach their full potential in Florida’s K-12 education system.”

Former Florida governor and Democratic candidate Charlie Crist came back with his own set of endorsements for school board seats in the state shortly after DeSantis’ announcement. No candidates in Monroe county were endorsed. 

“Gov. DeSantis is politicizing our classrooms, taking away parental rights and limiting Florida students’ freedom to learn,” he said. “Florida deserves dedicated public servants on our school boards that won’t inject politics into the classroom, but rather work every day to fight for the best interests of our students and educators.”

Suarez is a former educator who’s currently a prosecutor in the Monroe County State Attorney’s Office. She’s a mother of six who’s worked in South Florida and the Florida Keys most of her life.

In an interview with the Keys Weekly, Suarez said she filled out the survey. She said DeSantis’ endorsement is a combination of the platform candidates stand for and their reasons in running for school board. 

“I don’t think he’s endorsed in every single race in the state, It’s not like he’s going across the state and making sure he endorses every single race,” she said. “I did complete an educational survey just as I completed a questionnaire for Keys Weekly and other organizations that are involved in education or who want to share with the public what each candidate’s position is on certain issues that deal with education.

“I let the governor know that I stand for parental rights in education. I believe school choice is actually a good thing,” she continued. “If you look at when DeSantis got elected the first time, he had over 60% of moms, women’s votes, from Hispanic women such as myself and African American women. You want to know why? Because he said you can choose where your child goes to school.”

Sue Woltanski was elected to the school board in 2018. A retired pediatrician and mother of two Monroe County public school students, she has advocated not only in the Keys but also in Tallahassee as the state legislative chair of the Florida School Boards Association. She currently serves as the president-elect of the Greater Florida Consortium of School Board Members. 

As to DeSantis’ endorsement of her opponent, Woltanski said the governor’s endorsement is “basically given to anyone who swears allegiance to his talking points and agenda.”

“His endorsement has heightened the partisan rhetoric in what is supposed to be a nonpartisan race,” Woltanski told the Keys Weekly. “Now, instead of focusing on real issues that affect our local schools, we are hearing a non-stop barrage of political talking points that disparage our teachers and our schools. It is hard enough to keep teachers in the current economic climate. This doesn’t help.

“If we want to keep great teachers in our classrooms, we must reject politically motivated, false narratives that denigrate our teachers and our schools, and focus on what our local teachers and schools need to be successful.” 

Horan was asked about DeSantis’ endorsement in the nonpartisan race against Gabrielle Brown during a July 18 Hometown forum. He said he’s a governor-endorsed candidate, and he’d say that if it was Andrew Gillum, Nikki Fried or any other governor in office. 

“I’m sure many of you would like the governor to stay out of races, but I’m going to be transparent. I’m endorsed by him. I’m not running as a Republican. I’m not running as a Democrat. I’m running as a nonpartisan. Because I believe, in this age, you need to have someone who represents all people. … I’m a product of Monroe County schools and of this environment, and I’ll continue to be a product of this environment once I sit on that dais.”

Suarez said it’s funny to hear that critics are saying that DeSantis is politicizing school board races. 

“The only reason I see that DeSantis got involved in school board races is because there are school districts and certain school board members across the state that are injecting ideologies and things into school boards and school districts that have no place there. It’s not politicizing it. He’s been working to extract political, partisan politics in the state that doesn’t belong there.”

Suarez has raised close to $35,000 in campaign contributions. So far, she’s spent $17,600. 

Woltanski has raised $54,700 in campaign contributions. She’s spent close to $40,300 so far. School board members serve four-year terms and make an annual salary of $33,224. 

In addition to her endorsement from DeSantis, Suarez has received backing from the Republican Party of Monroe County and the 1776 Project PAC. Woltanski is endorsed by the Equality Florida Action PAC, Families Deserve Inclusive Schools and United Teachers of Monroe. 

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Jim McCarthy is a Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 3-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, mixed martial arts and golf. He loves to hit the links and play some softball with his Make A Play team. He also enjoys time with family (he's expecting a little boy in October).