Voters in Marion County reelected incumbent Eric Cummings to a second term in District 3 and two new school board members, teacher Lori Conrad in District 2 and preschool owner Sarah James in District 5, during Tuesday’s primary election.

Cummings, Conrad and James will join school board member Nancy Thrower, who did not oppose this year’s election, and vice president Allison Campbell, who was elected in 2020.

This will be the youngest school board, by experience and age, in many years. All three who were elected Tuesday night and Thrower will be sworn in in November. Cummings is chair of the school board.

District 2 Race:Lori Conrad and Joseph Suranni in competition

District 3 Race:Eric Cummings faces challenge from retiree Steve Swett

District 5 Race:Educator Sarah James faces off with business owner Taylor Smith

LIVE ELECTION RESULTS: See the latest results for local and national races

Conrad replaces Don Browning, 79, who was appointed by Governor Ron DeSantis in August 2021. Browning announced in June that he was retiring to spend more time with his family.

Browning was chosen to replace Beth McCall, who won in 2016 and was unopposed in 2020. She left office in 2021 after leaving the district she represented.

Since Browning’s nomination came more than 20 months before the 2024 election cycle, it is a special election in 2022. Conrad’s seat will be on the ballot again in 2024.

School board races are nonpartisan and elections are held countywide, but members must live in the district they represent. Council members serve four-year terms and earn an annual salary of $42,627, an amount set by the state.

James replaces Kelly King, a two-term member who believes in term limits and felt it was time for new ideas on the board.

School board incumbent Eric Cummings wins second term

Cummings, 53, a term holder, beat Steve Swett, garnering 63.1% of the vote. Cummings received 40,923 votes to Swett’s 27,126 to take the District 3 seat, according to the Marion County Supervisor of Elections website.

Before Cummings was elected to the school board in 2018, he had worked for the Florida Department of Corrections since 1994. He has served as pastor of New Zion Missionary Baptist Church for the past six years.

Eric Cummings

He also pastored the United Missionary Baptist Church in Dunnellon for 10 years and also taught at United Theological Seminary, which is based in Louisiana but has a small campus in Ocala.

Cummings, who graduated from Forest High School in 1987, earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Edward Waters College in Jacksonville in 1987 and a bachelor’s degree from United Theological Seminary, both magna cum laude.

Cummings said Tuesday evening that he “is grateful to the community for their support.” As for his opponent, he felt that Swett had a good race and he wishes him good luck.

Swett, 74, is a political newcomer who retired from the United States Postal Service in 2005 after a 34-year career. His last position was Postmaster in Dunnellon, from 1994 to 2005. He was Postal Director in Miami from 1974 to 1994.

Lori Conrad, left, and Sarah James, right, pictured with Marion County School Board Chairman Eric Cummings at church nine days before the election.

He graduated from high school in Miami in 1966, attended what is now Miami Dade College, and was in the first class of Florida International University. Swett earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in 1974.

Swett, who has been married for 52 years and has two adult children, served as a staff sergeant in the US Air Force in Vietnam, leaving the service in 1970 to attend college.

Swett’s platform was that the district is ranked among the worst in Florida. He felt that his life and work experience, coupled with his education and temperament, would best serve the local district, which has 7,000 employees and nearly 44,000 students.

In an interview Tuesday night, Swett said “people have spoken and congratulations to Reverend Cummings.”

Preschool owner Sarah James defeats Taylor Smith in District 5

Preschool owner Sarah James defeated business owner Taylor Smith for the District 5 school board, winning 65% of the vote. James received 44,642 votes to Smith’s 24,077 votes, according to the county elections website.

James worked as a teacher and vice-principal in Marion County Public Schools for seven years and in the private school sector for three more. Recently, she decided to buy a Kid City USA preschool franchise in downtown Ocala.

James received a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from Louis National University in 2021, a Master’s degree from the University of Central Florida in 2013, and a Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Florida in 2011.

Sarah James

James said on Tuesday evening that she was also looking forward to November.

“I am grateful for the support of the community and they trust me to serve them on the school board,” she said. “I look forward to creating impactful changes starting in November.”

Taylor Smith, horse farm manager and animal breeder owner of Circle T Equine and Foul, volunteers with the Paul Chester Children’s Hope Foundation and the Protect Our Children project.

Smith, who is a real estate investor, horse trainer and Marion County graduate, could not be reached for comment. James said she also called Smith but was unable to get in touch by Tuesday evening.

Teacher Lori Conrad defeats Dean Joseph Suranni in District 2

Teacher Lori Conrad defeated Elementary School Dean Joseph Suranni for the District 2 School Board, winning 72.6% of the vote. Conrad received 49,811 votes to Suranni’s 18,829 votes, according to the county elections website.

Conrad believes the constant changes to the program over the years, particularly after former school superintendent Jim Yancey retired in 2012, were partly responsible for the state’s declining rankings.

Conrad has been a teacher for 27 years. She teaches second grade at Dr. NH Jones and was a finalist for Golden Apple Teacher of the Year in 2012. She earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Saint Leo University in 1991.

Conrad said Tuesday that she was ready to join the school board, which will come in November.

Lori Conrad

“We are super excited and looking forward to working with everyone to make Marion County Schools the best it can be,” Conrad noted.

Suranni, currently the dean of Belleview-Santos Elementary School, had touted his experience and upbringing as to why he was the best person to fill Brownings shoes.

He spent 16 years in the field of education, first as an outstanding student teacher at Howard Middle School, then as vice-principal/dean of Shady Hill, Reddick-Collier and Belleview-Santos elementary schools. .

Suranni graduated with an Education Specialist (EdS) degree from Saint Leo University in 2009. He also earned an EdS degree, an advanced degree for teachers who wish to specialize in a particular area, such as leadership, technology education or early childhood.

He earned his master’s degree from Saint Leo in 2007, a master’s degree in commerce from Webster University in 2005, and a bachelor’s degree from Canisius College (Buffalo, New York) in 2002.

Suranni had touted his academic experience and his business degree has reason to choose him for the job.

“Obviously they (the voters) felt his background was more suitable for the job,” said Suranni, who said he was shocked by the results.

Joe Callahan can be reached at (352) 817-1750 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @JoeOcalaNews.

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