There’s a story to be told in each of the three races for Miami-Dade County School Board.
In District 3, a duel between two Miami Beach Senior High teachers. In District 5, a showdown of the vice mayors of Doral and Miami Springs. In District 9, a political newcomer challenges a career politician.
These six candidates defeated eight other challengers in the August primary election. With a third of the nine-member School Board not seeking reelection, the board will have new faces for the first time since 2016.
School Board members are elected every four years, and there are no term limits — whoever is elected may be on the board for years to come.
District 3: Lucia Baez-Geller vs. Russ Rywell
If there’s any striking difference between the two highly effective Miami Beach Senior High teachers, it’s their cash. Russ Rywell has a past life in finance and a net worth of $13 million. He’s bankrolled close to $300,000 for his campaign, and has fundraised in the triple digits, raising $437,864.
Yet it was Lucia Baez-Geller who came out on top in August. In a field of five candidates, she won 27.64% of the vote in the primary. Rywell won 25.92%.
She’s enjoyed the endorsement of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party and nods from U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala and state Sen. Annette Taddeo. (Baez-Geller’s husband is Taddeo’s legislative aide).
The winner will preside over a district that stretches from Aventura and North Miami Beach down to the beaches and includes a slice of downtown Miami.
District 5: Christi Fraga vs. Mara Zapata
School Board races are nonpartisan, but this race is politically polarized.
Christi Fraga, is backed by the Republican Party, and contributions have poured in from developers, as she’s raised $124,265.
That seemed to have given her an edge. Fraga, who owns Brain Freeze Nitrogen Ice Cream & Yogurt Lab, bested career educator Mara Zapata in the primary election by just 60 votes.
Zapata is endorsed by her current School Board member, Susie Castillo, as well as the Democratic Party and the United Teachers of Dade. She has raised $86,870.
Fraga is the vice mayor of Doral while Zapata stepped down as vice mayor of Miami Springs to run for the School Board. Interestingly, Doral Mayor JC Bermudez sided against his own vice mayor and endorsed Zapata, the educator.
District 9: Dennis C. Moss vs. Luisa Santos
No race for the School Board this year has had more drama than District 9.
The diverse district spanning from Pinecrest south and west to Florida City attracted five candidates during the primary. Term-limited county commissioner Dennis C. Moss took a lead with 27.58% of the vote, leaving his competitors behind. Moss has raised $219,800 while Luisa Santos has raised $114,584.
First-time candidate Santos emerged as a dark horse, narrowly making it to the runoff with 21.6% of votes. Santos owns Lulu’s Nitrogen Ice Cream.
Since August, Moss lost the endorsement of the Miami-Dade Democrats when he defended his vote to end “sanctuary” policies at county jails because he said immigration groups hadn’t shown enough support for issues of importance to Black residents.
Recently, a constituent named Christian Santos filed a lawsuit against Santos and Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections Christina White to remove Santos from the ballot. The suit alleged Santos did not live in her district; a private investigator was even hired to tail her. Court records showed the lawsuit was dismissed and closed Thursday.
During the primary election, current District 9 School Board member Larry Feldman was also suspected of living outside of his district.