School Board 7 election: Robinson defeats Ferguson to win 6th term

Updated Aug 28, 2018
Palm Beach County School Board Vice Chairwoman Debra L. Robinson

Debra L. Robinson won a sixth term on the Palm Beach County School Board Tuesday, handily defeating her rival in her toughest reelection challenge since she first took office in 2000.

The school board’s longest-serving member, Robinson won by a 21-point margin over Riviera Beach attorney Edwin Ferguson, aided by a campaign fund-raising advantage and support from public employee unions and local elected leaders.

With all precincts and early votes counted, Robinson won 61 percent of the 24,400 votes cast in the race, Palm Beach County’s elections supervisor reported.

Her victory meant that all four board members up for reelection this year kept their seats, leaving the composition of the seven-member board unchanged.

The three other board members whose terms ended this year — Marcia Andrews, Karen Brill and Erica Whitfield — faced no opponents and were automatically reelected.

RELATED: School Board 7: Ferguson aims to unseat Robinson

Reached Tuesday evening, Robinson said she was happy to be able to continue serving.

“I’m looking forward to the work to be done,” she said.

Ferguson did not respond to a phone message seeking comment.

The race between Robinson and Ferguson was cast by both candidates as a sort of generational clash, with Robinson, 61, extolling her nearly two decades on the board and Ferguson, 41, arguing that it was time for a newcomer to represent the residents of District 7.

The district, drawn up in 2000 to help ensure African-American representation on what at the time was an all-white board, runs through Lake Park, Riviera Beach and parts of West Palm Beach, Lake Worth, Lantana, Boynton Beach and Delray Beach. Only residents of the district were eligible to vote in the race.

Since being elected in 2000, Robinson has faced few serious reelection challenges. In her four reelection bids before Tuesday, she won twice without opposition and twice with 69 percent and 72 percent of the vote, respectively.

This year’s testy campaign had a personal dimension, with Ferguson saying that Robinson had encouraged him to run before deciding to seek reelection herself. Robinson conceded she had been preparing someone else to run in her place but has denied telling Ferguson to run.

Robinson, a recently retired physician, spent years as an education activist before her 18 years on the board, giving her a decades-long perspective on the county’s public schools and education issues.

Ferguson, who taught high school as both a substitute teacher and a full-time math teacher in 2001 and 2002, admitted to having less working knowledge of the intricacies of education policy, but he said Robinson had accomplished too little in her most recent term and that he would be a quick study.

In addition to support from unions and political leaders, Robinson enjoyed a fund-raising advantage over Ferguson, drawing contributions from teachers, police and school worker unions, construction companies and Florida Crystals Corp.

Through last week, Robinson reported raising $74,900 in campaign contributions, compared with Ferguson’s $54,300.

While school board members oversee the county’s public elementary, middle and high schools, Ferguson argued that the school district should do more to support children in the county’s many private preschool programs.

Robinson said that she had confidence in Schools Superintendent Donald Fennoy and the rest of the district’s leadership team and that its schools were moving in the right direction.

Board members earn an annual salary of $44,443 and serve four-year terms.