Ocala Star-Banner | By Joe Callahan | August 31 2021
Retired businessman, nature photographer and three-time political candidate Don Browning was named to the Marion County School Board late Monday by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Browning will replace Beth McCall.
Browning, 78, of Weirsdale, has served on many charitable organization boards, was a candidate for Marion County Commission in 2016, and ran twice for a congressional seat more than a decade ago.
Now Browning is a school board member, replacing McCall. She was re-elected in 2020 to a four-year term, but resigned in May after she moved out of District 2. School Board members are elected countywide, but must reside in the district they represent.
Wesley Wilcox, the Marion County supervisor of elections, said Tuesday there will be a special election in 2022. That’s because the appointment was more than 20 months before the District 2 seat was officially up again 2024.
Wilcox said though the 2022 election is called a “special election,” it will be on the same 2022 ballot as the District 3, 4 and 5 school board seats held by Eric Cummings, Chairwoman Nancy Thrower and Vice Chairwoman Kelly King, respectively.
“It has happened a number times,” Wilcox noted. “Be careful of the legal term ‘special election.’ People think it’s going to be at a different time. It’s called a special but it’s going to run concurrent with the scheduled 2022 primary, and general election cycle.”
It last happened on the school board in 2007 when now-retired member Bobby James was appointed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush. James had to run in a special election in 2008 and again in 2010 and 2014. He retired in 2018 after serving his 11 years on the school board.
More information about Don Browning
Browning is the retired chief executive officer of Browning Forms and Systems, Inc., which he founded after serving in the United States Navy. He also served on the Winter Springs City Council, Florida Council on Arts and Culture and the Florida Juvenile Justice Association.
Browning has volunteered on many boards and organizations, including the Florida Sheriff’s Association, Kiwanis Club of Marion County, Ocala Lions Club and the Marion County Domestic Violence Fund. He earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Central Missouri.
“I can very easily go to 2024 and then I will make a decision (about a 2024 re-election) as I go along,” he said.
He ran for Marion County Commission in 2016 and two times for congressional seats more than a decade ago.
“I was asked if I would come out of retirement,” Browning said on Tuesday. “Some of the people from the school district said we need a Browning-quality-or-better school board member and asked if I would get involved.”
Browning put his hat in the ring. He said he’s thankful for the appointment.
“We’re at a critical time because of this COVID,” he noted. “My role will be to help guide our resources to the advantage of youth for them to gain as much traction in life, to gain as much education as possible to be able to achieve their goals.”
Browning called serving on the school board “a sacred duty.”
“There are five people that make decisions on policy for the school board, but there’s a huge reservoir of incredibly dedicated individuals that are involved in education,” Browning noted.
What does Don Browning think about mask mandates for students?
As to masks in schools during COVID-19, Browning believes in parental choice. He said facial expressions are used to communicate in life, especially the classroom.
“So to put a mask over someone’s face stops the primary source of oral communication,” he noted. “I’m not saying no masks. But you must arrive at decisions in a prudent way and do the prudent thing.”
Browning believes that “there’s a lot of research out there that masks are to guard the sick person” from passing along the disease.
“They can provide some protection,” he continued. “But if you’re trying to stop a virus with a mask, that is almost a joke.”
He believes the rule of thumb should be children should start out without a mask and “then follow their parents’ direction.”
“Your mother and the father run the family, and they will make a decision as to whether or not you’re healthy enough to go without a mask,” he noted.
On the other side, he said a child is “fully entitled to put on a mask and that’s what the governor has said.”
“So we start without a mask,” he concluded. “We can use a mask if we need it and we should follow the governor’s direction because everybody is working for the health, education and welfare of our children.”
Current board members glad to have full team
School board member Allison Campbell said she is very grateful that “we now have five board members.
“Based on my previous interactions with Mr. Browning, I believe that some of his passions are going to be new to the board,” she said. “And I think from the finance side of things, knowing his business background, I think he will be a wonderful addition.”
Chairwoman Nancy Thrower said she was relieved to have the fifth seat filled and she is “sure he’ll bring a lot of perspective.”
Vice Chairwoman Kelly King welcomed Browning and stated it is good to have another person to “help navigate through these challenging times and it’s worth.”
Cummings said for the last three-plus months the board has been making decisions with only four members, needing a 3-1 majority to approve matters before them.
“By having five people on the board again, we will not have to worry about split votes,” he said.