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Experienced teacher wins out over mom

By ROBERT KING

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 8, 2000


BROOKSVILLE -- Gail Coleman, who taught in Hernando County schools for 91/2 years and served on the School Board for four years, was restored to the office she left in 1996 with an overwhelming victory Tuesday.

Coleman captured nearly two-thirds of the vote to defeat first-time candidate Shannon Laviano, who was supported by the teachers union and several district officials. She outspent Coleman by more than 2-to-1.

Coleman, 45, considered the election a job application process, accepting a few donations but making no fundraising efforts and posted no campaign signs. Her expenses were limited to a few print ads.

She banked on her lingering name recognition, the endorsements of both local newspapers and the theory the public would choose the experienced educator for the job.

"It's a good example that you don't have to spend a lot of money on campaigning or signs on the street corner if you are right on the issues," Coleman said.

She took handshakes at Tuesday night's School Board meeting from staffers and board members, including Jerry Milby, who chose not to run for a second term.

Laviano, 36, campaigned as a mother who could bring a parent's perspective to the board. She enjoyed the support of the Hernando Classroom Teachers Association, School Board Chairman Jim Malcolm and top district office staff.

Both candidates agreed that teachers need more competitive pay, that a renewal of a half-cent sales tax may be needed to build new schools and that teachers and principals should be trusted with decisions on promoting students.

Laviano had cast Coleman as a candidate whose first term was one of friction and divisiveness.

Coleman countered by saying she merely was willing to stand up for what she thought was right.

In the Sept. 5 primary, Coleman captured 49.1 percent of the vote in a four-candidate race. Laviano finished second with just 18 percent. But Coleman fell 183 votes shy of what was necessary to avoid Tuesday's runoff.

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