Keithahn and Pegler face off in lead-up to election day

VERO BEACH — The race for School Board District 5 between Jeff Pegler and Kimberly Keithahn began to heat up Wedensday with a candidate forum before the Republican Women of the Treasure Coast group at the Old Towne Cafe in Vero Beach.

During the intimate luncheon meeting, Keithahn and Pegler stated their cases for election and answered questions from the 20 or so women — and a couple of men — present. They agreed on several specific policy issues, but came to run for a spot on the School Board for different reasons. Keithahn has come to know Indian River County Schools from the inside out, being the mom of two students, one at Imagine Schools at South Vero and one at Sebastian River High School. She wants to apply her first-hand knowledge as a parent and her 15 years of experience as a businesswoman, as well as her research and time spent working as a substitute teacher to devote herself full-time to serving on the school board.

“I’ve been a Conservative my entire life, and I think we need to find the money within the budget and not raise taxes,” she said.

What she’s gleaned from attending so many school board meetings and workshops and round tables, Keithahn said, is the need for better communication. She said she better understands the public’s frustration with the school district and can provide a “fresh perspective.”

Pegler, a former prosecutor for the State Attorney’s Office and a practicing attorney with the firm of Block, Block and Pegler, is running because of what he saw working with juvenile offenders. These students, Pegler believes, ended up in the court system partially due to the fact that they were failed by the school system in some way.

“I really recognized the imperative and the need for a strong educational system,” he said.

But Pegler said he has a different philosophy of the role of a school board member.

“This is a policy-making body, it’s not a full-time job,” Pegler said, adding that the school board’s job is “to implement policies to enable teachers to teach and to enable students to learn.”

Pegler’s wife is a classroom teacher and he is the father of a toddler son. Though he doesn’t currently have children attending Indian River Schools, Pegler said that, if elected, the decisions he would make would have long-lasting effects for his son’s generation and beyond.

Keithahn is a former businesswoman who has most recently been a full-time mom and a substitute teacher. She has been a constant presence at School Board meetings and workshops this year. Keithahn’s father, Mike Ochsner, serves on the Indian River Shores Town Council.

After mounting the only serious challenge to Pegler in the non-partisan primary, Keithahn faces an uphill battle as she trailed Pegler in the Aug. 24 contest by about 3,800 votes.

Pegler received 9,768 votes to Keithahn’s 5,972, sending them into a run-off election as no candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote.

It is yet to be seen who will get the nearly 4,200 votes cast for the two candidates eliminated from the race, Harry Hall and Ardra Rigby.

Althea McKenzie, who is running as a write-in candidate on the November ballot, will also be an X-factor in this race.

McKenzie was not invited to Wednesday’s forum as she is not a declared Republican.

All three candidates are vying for the seat left vacated by out-going School Board member Debbie MacKay. MacKay declined to file for re-election.

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