Special to South Florida Times
WEST PALM BEACH — Marcia Andrews had a big smile on her face Tuesday as she was sworn in as one of the newest members of the Palm Beach County School Board.
With nearly 100 supporters packed into the board room of the school district headquarters in West Palm Beach, the veteran educator told her colleagues and others in the audience that it had been a long haul.
“It was a long, long, long campaign,” she said.
After slow recounts, 500 misplaced ballots and a host of other problems faced by the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections office, there was some doubt as to whether a winner would really be declared for the District 6 seat.
When the votes were finally counted, nine days after the Nov. 2 Election Day, Andrews came out with 24,695 votes or 50.4 percent of the ballots cast and Dean Grossman with 24,655 or 49.96 percent.
A mere 40 votes separated the two.
The problems started on election night. Because the race was so close, an automatic recount was necessary. But when the recount started on Nov. 8, problems arose with ballots – in an area that gained world notoriety for the “hanging chad” ballot and other problems during the 2000 presidential election.
Then an even bigger surprise emerged: A box of 500 absentee ballots was suddenly discovered a day later, under a table at the elections tabulation center in Riviera Beach.
The elections office issued a statement blaming it on “human error.” But the newly discovered ballots added to the totals for both candidates – but not enough for Grossman to defeat Andrews, the second African American now on the board, after Debra Robinson, who was re-elected.
Andrews is no stranger to the school district or the community. She was a veteran teacher, assistant principal, administrator and principal before retiring in 2008. For the last two years, she’s frequently attended board meetings as a concerned citizen. She garnered support from affluent soccer moms, as well as those in the most poverty stricken areas of Palm Beach County, with District 6 covering an area from Belle Glade and South Bay – predominantly black, rural western areas of Palm Beach County — and affluent areas such as Wellington, Royal Palm Beach and parts of Boca Raton.
She said it was neglect of the western communities of Belle Glade and South Bay that prompted her to consider running for the office. The predominantly black areas are among Palm Beach County’s poorest, with some of the oldest, most dilapidated schools in the county.
Her election “is surely going to be a better representation for Belle Glade and South Bay, where a lot of children were getting lost in the system,” she said during an interview. “I think you have to have a hands-on school board member for those areas.”
Staunch supporters from the two areas showed up in strength to see her take the oath of office.
Mike Dowling, who taught in the area 21 years ago, said there is desperate need for attention, which Andrews says she will bring. But he added that she will bring transparency to the board.
Dowling, who has taught at the inner city-based Roosevelt Middle School for the past 18 years, said when he started out as a substitute teacher, it was Andrews — then working in Human Resources — who hired him, though she doesn’t recall it. He has followed her extensively over the years.
“I was so proud of the fact that this woman, who was retired, kept coming back and fighting for the children, kept fighting for the parents, kept fighting for the teachers. I became a huge fan,” said Dowling, who worked in Andrews’ campaign. “She’s going to bring openness and transparency to the school board. It’s needed.”
Debbie Block, a suburban Boca Raton mother of three school-age children, said Andrews will bring a level of expertise to the board. She said she first met Andrews at a board meeting last year. “As I got to know her, she was so knowledgeable and intelligent and really knew what was going on,” Block said, adding that as a concerned parent, she frequently sought Andrews’ knowledge and advice, which she found invaluable.
Andrews says one of her priorities is the district’s low performing students.. A recent national study put the graduation rate among young black males at 22 percent.
“We have to dig deeper into how we help our children who are having difficulties and find programs such as career programs, or programs for the arts, or music, something to get them excited about coming to school. We’ve got to get a curriculum and recruit the kinds of teachers who can meet the needs of those students,” Andrews said.
Her other goals includes ensuring all students are college-ready, building coalitions with parents and the community to boost Pre-K and early intervention programs and developing programs for character education and citizenship programs.
Daphne Taylor may be reached at email@example.com.
Photo: Marsha Andrews