School Board incumbent Andy Griffiths defined his 20-year tenure as "stability" at a political forum Monday night, while his political opponent Yvette Mira-Talbott questioned what he could possibly do with a sixth term.
The two will face off in a runoff election Nov. 6, as neither could wrest 50 percent plus one vote in August to win the District 2 seat outright.
Although the campaign so far has been markedly polite, the candidates have kept up the basic debate of whether the School Board needs change, in the form of newcomer Mira-Talbott, or a veteran's years on the job, which Griffiths brings.
"What's going to be different in the next four years?" Mira-Talbott asked Griffiths, seated beside her at a table before a crowd of at least 60 people. "I don't know. What will you do differently? How can you be more effective in the next four years?"
Griffiths, who owns a charter boat business and donates his $28,000 School Board salary back to the district, answered with a short list.
"We've gone from deficit spending to a balanced budget," Griffiths said directly to Mira-Talbott at the Hometown PAC's first post-primary event. "The hired superintendent that I have longed for, for many years, has arrived. I think we need stability for a change. My experience at this point in history would be extremely valuable. I've never been more passionate about public education."
One of the forum's panelists, attorney Ed Scales, had Griffiths and Mira-Talbott ask each other a question at the forum hosted by the Conch Flyer restaurant inside the Key West International Airport.
Earlier in the evening, candidates for the mosquito control board, state representative, state senate and supervisor of elections took turns before the panel of questioners.
But the final political contest of the night was reserved for the nonpartisan School Board contest.
Griffiths paused for a few moments before asking Mira-Talbott his question: What would be your first priority in your first month on the board?
"Have a meeting with the superintendent and get our finance department in order," she said. "It is completely unacceptable that we've had so many (state audit) findings. People need to regain the public's trust."
Another panelist asked the candidates to grade the district's principals. Griffiths said a 90 percent, while Mira-Talbott said they each deserve an A-plus for Monroe County's continued academic success in the state rating system. Monroe has earned an A for the past six years and last year ranked no. 8 among Florida's public schools.
Griffiths gave the recent superintendent search process a 98 percent rating after taking credit for getting it started by calling "a friend" in Tallahassee to come and kick start the hiring. Mira-Talbott said perhaps the School Board could have let the district's human resources department lead the search. She gave the process a B.
The final grade was for the School Board's performance. Griffiths gave it an 80 percent. Mira-Talbott flunked them.
As a whole, I'm going to have to say a failing grade," she said. Board members seemed to love blaming ousted Superintendent Randy Acevedo for all the district's woes when he and his wife were nabbed by the state attorney's office for embezzlement, Mira-Talbott said.
"Since his departure, we continue to find ourselves in the headlines of the newspaper on a daily basis," she said.
Hometown PAC's next forum is set for 5 p.m. Oct. 15 at the Conch Flyer, with the School Board District 3 candidates, Ed Davidson and John Welsh scheduled to meet at the microphones.
In the contest for District 3, made vacant by Duncan Mathewson's decision to resign after having served since 2004, there is a third write-in candidate who is not on the ballot. That's blogger Sloan Bashinsky, who at one point Monday night booed Scott Hopes, the Republican candidate for state senator, who was trying to explain an answer rather than say "yes" or "no."