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Miami-Dade school board chair will not run for re-election

Al Diaz
Miami Herald
Miami-Dade County School Board Chair Perla Tabares Hantman won't be running for re-election. Her announcement comes as local districts have been under increased political pressure due to fights over masking and curriculum.

After 26 years in office, the chair of the Miami Dade County School Board says she won’t run for re-election. Perla Tabares Hantman was first elected in 1996 and went on to become the first Hispanic woman to lead the state’s largest school board, going on to serve as chair 14 times.

“I have truly been blessed to have played a role in providing outstanding educational experience for the children of Miami-Dade,” she wrote in a letter to staff and community members on Wednesday in an announcement first reported by the Miami Herald.

However, she wrote, "a moment has arrived that is both bittersweet and exciting, as after three decades I believe the time has come for me to explore the next chapter of my life and enjoy time with my children and grandchildren. This is a decision I have contemplated for some time.”

Hantman will finish out her term, which ends in November.

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Earlier this month, Hantman drew a challenger in Roberto J. Alonso, a trustee at Miami Dade College who was appointed to that position by Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2020.

DeSantis, who wields considerable influence over the state's Republican party, has said he'll be weighing in on local school board races — which are officially nonpartisan.

Born in Havana, Cuba, Hantman came to the United States to finish her education at Barry University and went on to a career in the foreign service, according to a district biography.

Hantman was a key ally to former Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who left Miami-Dade County Public Schools in February to lead the Los Angeles Unified School District. Carvalho has been credited with major gains in student achievement in the district, with graduation rates climbing from 58.7 percent in the 2006-2007 school year to 90.1 percent during the 2020-2021 school year.

“[M]y true pride and joy has been the miraculous transformation of Miami-Dade County Public Schools from a challenged and struggling school system to an A-rated district with a graduation rate exceeding 90 percent,” Hantman said. “Throughout this journey I have had the great pleasure to stand shoulder to shoulder with School Board Members, committed administrators, excellent teachers and support personnel.”

Hantman’s decision comes at a time when public education and local school boards are under increasing political pressure, with bitter fights over masking, school closures, and how to address race and diversity in the classroom.

“She has been unflappable in very turbulent times. She’s a very steadfast individual,” said board Vice Chair Steve Gallon. “She’s been a tremendous role model, for not only members of the board, but for public servants around this state and around this nation. So yes the dynamics obviously will change. But her legacy will continue to resonate.”

In a statement, M-DCPS Superintendent Jose Dotres said Hantman has served as a “trusted mentor to countless school leaders”, including him.

“Her wisdom, patience, and unbridled commitment to the children and workforce of this District stand as an extraordinary example of public service,” Dotres’ statement reads. “I personally count her to be among the key influences in my professional life.”

Under a new state law imposing 12-year term limits on school board members, Hantman’s colleagues will no longer be able to have the uninterrupted tenure that she has had.

“We will not see another Perla Tabares Hantman,” Gallon said. “We will not see another iconic legacy of service and leadership in our lifetime, based on the current laws that are on the books.”