Sundial Now: Miami-Dade School Board elections get more attention and more political than before
School board races usually don’t get much hype. That might be changing this election season.
Election Day is just a week away.
School Board races aren’t usually the center of attention. But that might change as more and more politics seep into this layer of government.
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Over the past year, the Miami Dade County Public School Board has made national headlines for its policies on COVID, parental rights, sex education and more.
Adding to that is Governor Ron DeSantis’ involvement in these local, non-partisan races. He’s endorsed two candidates in this local race and many others in similar races across the state.
WLRN’s education reporter Kate Payne spoke with the Miami Herald’s K-12 education reporter, Sommer Brugal, about this race on Sundial Now.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
The politicization of school boards
BRUGAL: School boards have become much more of like a household discussion these days compared to a couple of years ago. And I think it's because of groups like Moms for Liberty and others that have really made it a point to attend school board meetings and raise concerns about things. I started covering them when I was an education reporter a little north of Miami on the Treasure Coast. They started out as a local group of moms and two school former school board members. Then, really what we saw in a year's time grow from that small local chapter to having a presence pretty much all around Florida. We saw them standing alongside the governor at various press conferences when he was starting to introduce legislation that related to parental rights in schools. And then we saw the growth even more in recent months.
Incumbents and challengers
Long-time incumbent Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall has been in the seat since 2010, and she is being challenged by La-Shanda West, who is a teacher at Cutler Bay Senior High who has taught a range of topics from civics, law, reading and speech. And one of the things that West has mentioned in conversations and interviews that I've had with her is she is this accountability piece––wanting to have more communication from the incumbent, wanting to really see what the incumbent uses to determine success in certain programs that she has put forward. She's also said that it might be time for a new voice and somebody with current classroom experience or long time classroom experience, if you will. And that's something that we heard from a lot of the challengers to incumbents.
Teacher Sandra Manzier, she's at Key Biscayne K-8 Center and she's challenging Mari Tere Rojas, who's been in the seat since 2016. The incumbent does not have recent classroom experience. Manzier will argue that the classroom has changed in the last couple of years, and because of her experience, particularly in the last couple of years, she is best equipped to help form policies that will address learning loss and mental health concerns that have come to the forefront because of the pandemic. She has also pointed out the lack of presence that board members have in the day-to-day understanding of what is going on in a school. On the flip side, the incumbent will say that she has nothing to do with the day-to-day activities. She has to do with the policy side of things and that there is a specific series of steps that take place when teachers or people in schools raise complaints about things.
This seat has been held by Marta Perez since 1998. Her challenger is Monica Colucci, she’s another district teacher. This race is particularly interesting because the challenger has been endorsed by Governor DeSantis. She's one of two individuals running in this school board election to receive his endorsement. She is very much aligned with the governor in terms of what she has chosen to focus on, everything from parental rights to a “back to basics academic model” that focuses on reading, writing, math and civics. She will also say, like the other two challengers, she's been in the classroom, she knows what's going on, arguing that Perez, who has been in this seat since the late nineties, is very far removed from that situation.
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