Former Palm Beach Gardens High principal Barbara McQuinn secured the only open seat on the Palm Beach County School Board, opening with a solid lead over opponent Tom Sutterfield Tuesday night that he was never able to eclipse.
“I don’t understand the margin, but I respect the voters of District 1. It didn’t work out,” Sutterfield said conceding the race before 10 p.m. He had expected a closer call, but instead the evening closed with about 20,000 votes separating the two.
“I feel so thrilled that grass roots support from people who really know me and know my work can actually beat big money funding a negative campaign,” McQuinn said.
As of 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, McQuinn had 51,355 votes (61.61 percent) and Sutterfield had 31,990 (38.38 percent).
The two candidates rose from a primary field of six, all vying for the seat vacated by Mike Murgio, whose legal turmoil prompted him to resign just months before his four-year term came to an end. District 1 reaches from the northern county line down into Singer Island and parts north of West Palm Beach and west of Riviera Beach.
McQuinn was a first-time board candidate who began her career teaching at Palm Beach Gardens Elementary in 1974 and went on to be principal at Palm Beach Gardens High and then area superintendent in the Glades before retiring.
This was the second shot at school board for Sutterfield, an information technology administrator with the South Florida Water Management District, whose education experience is centered in the world of charter schools.
The future role of charter schools, and both candidates’ experiences with them became a driving factor in the race, particularly as the campaign season came to a close.
Charter schools are run with public money that follows each student, but are managed privately. The number of charters and their growing enrollment have become a point of contention for the School Board which is in the midst of defending its move to begin denying some charter applications.
Sutterfield, who sits on the board of two charter schools, billed himself as a champion of parent choice, his daughters attend dance programs in the district’s premiere art middle and high schools.
In the last weeks, north county voters saw an onslaught of mailers, robo-calls and television ads supporting Sutterfield and alternately bashing McQuinn in what her advisers estimated was a $100,000 push paid for not by Sutterfield’s coffers but by various charter school management companies that funnelled the money through various political action committees with names like Free Speech Inc. and Citizen Action Inc.
Tuesday, reports indicate the fight became personal when witnesses said McQuinn’s husband berated Sutterfield’s teenage daughter as the two stood outside the polling precinct at Dwyer High School.
McQuinn confirmed that her husband confessed to a “verbal altercation” at the school. She said the family, down to her teenage grandson, had been under great duress as accusations flew about her ties to a closed charter school. Sutterfield said the exchange ended with a call to school police. He said he was appalled by Arthur McQuinn’s alleged behavior, and said his daughter was “shook up” when she called her father in tears.