SEBRING — Jill Compton took the oath of office around noon Monday to serve on the District 5 seat of the School Board of Highlands County.
Compton’s swearing-in at the school board district office follows the recent announcement that Gov. Rick Scott appointed her to the seat that has been vacant since the end of January by the resignation of Andy Tuck, who now serves on the State Board of Education.
A news release from Scott’s office states Compton will serve through Nov. 11.
Compton is in a five-way race for the District 5 seat. The other candidates are Clinton T. Culverhouse, Trevor A. Murphy, William “Pep” Hutchinson III, and William “Tres” Stephenson, III.
Compton said Monday that she was surprised by her appointment and that it occurred so late in the term.
“I had applied in February so by April or May I was thinking ‘well I guess he [Scott] decided not to appoint anyone,’” she said. “I am certainly happy by it and I hope that it gives me a leg up in the election.”
With five candidates, there is a chance no candidate will win the non-partisan primary election by a majority, prompting a runoff in the general election between the top two vote- getters.
“I think it will still go to a runoff,” Compton said. “It is my hope that it doesn’t, but in reality I think it will still go to a runoff because there are just so many contenders.”
Preparing for her first school board meeting on July 8 is her first priority, Compton said.
Citing a conflict of interest, Compton said her plans were to resign from her teaching position at the Kindergarten Learning Center if she won.
With her appointment, Compton said she will request to take a leave of absence until the election.
“I will have to resign if I am elected, but I am not sure if I will have to resign presently,” she said.
The other candidates were surprised by the appointment’s timing being so close to the election.
Murphy said it is still a five-way race for the District 5 school board seat.
“It is interesting because there are only three more board meetings between now and the primary,” he said.
The primary election will be held on Aug. 26, but early voting will start Aug. 16 and conclude Aug. 23, so there will only be two school board meetings before early voting starts.
The next three school board meetings are scheduled on July 8, July 28 and Aug. 19.
Murphy called it an “interesting” time, after the candidate qualifying period, for Scott to make the appointment.
“But, that is from the state level,” he said. “Our local constituents are going to be the ones who decide who is going to serve for the next four years.”
Murphy said Compton’s appointment won’t affect his campaign strategy.
“I am going to stick with what I am doing and getting out to the voters and hearing what they would like to see and what issues are affecting them,” he said.
Hutchinson said he called Compton over the weekend to congratulate her.
Her appointment will likely give her an advantage because as a school board member she will get her name in the newspaper, he said.
“I would have liked to have been appointed, also, because I put my name in there,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson noted that nearly all the other District 5 candidates applied to the governor’s office for the appointment except Stephenson.
Along with Compton, five others applied to the governor’s office for the appointment: Culverhouse, Robert Ervin, Hutchinson, Murphy and Dustin Woods. Ervin did not file for the seat and Woods prefiled, but later withdrew.
Hutchinson believes there will be a runoff election with the person “who works the hardest and has the most knowledge” winning.
Stephenson said he was surprised that Scott made such a late decision with just a few weeks until the election, but he doesn’t believe it will make a difference in the election.
He didn’t apply for the appointment because it was so close to the election.
“I think that the general public will, hopefully, look at every candidate’s qualifications and make their decision after that,” he said. “I am going to continue to stand on my own qualifications.”
Culverhouse said Compton is “definitely a qualified candidate. I think all five candidates are qualified to be on the board.”
Compton’s appointment could increase attendance at the candidate forums to see what the candidates are “bringing to the table and how much information they have.”