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Two DeSantis appointees sworn into Miami-Dade, Broward school boards

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Jose A. Iglesias / Miami Herald
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Broward County School Board Member Daniel Foganholi speaks to reporters after being sworn in on Jan. 18, 2023.

Updated at 4:35 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 18

Two appointees of Gov. Ron DeSantis were officially sworn in as school board members in South Florida on Wednesday, further expanding his influence over two of the state’s largest school districts.

Daniel Foganholi — a critic of Broward County schools Superintendent Vickie Cartwright — was sworn in as a member of the district's school board for the second time, ahead of a key vote when the board may decide the superintendent's fate.

DeSantis appointed him to take a seat won by Rod Velez, who was elected in November but wasn’t eligible to take office because of a decades-old felony conviction.

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Foganholi — a Brazilian American, product of Broward public schools and father — was sworn in Wednesday surrounded by his young children, nieces and nephews. In a brief speech he thanked his wife, his mother and grandmothers as well as God and the governor.

“I thank my Lord and savior Jesus Christ for this opportunity. It’s the same God that tells me not to be ashamed to say that I am a man of faith. It’s the same God that tells me all things are possible through faith in Him. It’s the same God that tells me no weapon against me shall prosper … that’s including mean tweets, mean emails and petty lawsuits!” Foganholi said.

“I would like to thank our great governor of this free state of Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis,” Foganholi added.

Foganholi’s reappointment will almost certainly add pressure on Cartwright, whose future with the district has increasingly been in question.

DeSantis had previously appointed Foganholi to the board to fill the seat of former Member Rosalind Osgood, who resigned to run for the Florida Senate.

During his first stint on the board — at a time when the majority of the members were appointed by DeSantis — Foganholi made the motion to fire Cartwright at a late-night meeting. The move drew criticism because it was not publicly noticed.

When newly-elected members were sworn in, they reversed the decision to fire Cartwright — though the board plans to discuss firing her a second time at a meeting on Jan. 24, after Board Member Allen Zeman put the item on the agenda.

Asked how he views Cartwright’s performance now, Foganholi didn’t say how he plans to vote next week.

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Kate Payne / WLRN
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It's the second time Gov. Ron DeSantis has appointed Daniel Foganholi to the Broward County School Board. In his first stint on the board, Foganholi led a push to fire the district's superintendent. The move was overturned, but Superintendent Vickie Cartwright's future is still in question.

“I still stand behind everything that happened,” he said. “I'm looking forward to seeing her presentation to the board to see what has [been] done since then … so we're gonna have that conversation.”

Foganholi took the seat despite the fact that he does not live in the district he represents. According to a school district spokesperson, appointed members are not legally required to reside in their districts — unlike elected members. Foganholi says he and his family are considering moving from their home in Coral Springs in the northern part of the county to his district in southeast Broward.

“That's a conversation with the wife here — with the boss — to see what we're doing,” Foganholi said in reference to his wife Alyssa. “It's a conversation we're having.”

Foganholi rejoins another DeSantis appointee on the board — member Torey Alston, who previously served on the Broward County Commission, after being appointed by DeSantis in 2021.

Newly-appointed Miami-Dade board member pledges to protect ‘parents’ rights’

In Miami-Dade County, Maria Bosque-Blanco took the oath of office Wednesday morning, after DeSantis appointed her to the seat Tuesday evening. A child of Cuban immigrants who describes herself as a “woman of faith," Bosque-Blanco said she’ll prioritize parents’ rights.

“I believe all children have a right to feel safe, loved and educated — while preserving a parent's rights to be the primary educators in the home,” she said.

“As a young teacher, later psychologist and now guidance counselor, it has always been clear to me that a strong collaboration between home and school is the most effective in maximizing a student's potential and overall wellbeing,” she added.

Bosque-Blanco is currently a guidance counselor at Our Lady of Lourdes Academy, a private Catholic girls school in Miami. In 2021 she was appointed by DeSantis to be a member of the Board of Trustees of Miami Dade College, which she also attended. She previously worked as a school psychologist in Broward County Public Schools.

Bosque-Blanco said her educational career has been focused on students’ mental health, and that one of her high school science teachers inspired her to go into the classroom.

“I still remember the excitement I felt that very first week of school, seeing the joy on a student's face when that lightbulb went off,” she said. “I instantly fell in love with the learning process and searched for a field that merged learning and mental health. This ultimately led me to earning a degree in school psychology.”

Bosque-Blanco thanked DeSantis and Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez for putting her on the board. She is taking the seat of former member Lubby Navarro, who resigned in advance of a new law going into effect barring elected officials from also working as lobbyists.

Bosque-Blanco joins other DeSantis allies on the board — Board Member Daniel Espino, who the governor appointed and members Roberto Alonso and Monica Colucci, who were both endorsed by the governor and ran on his “parental rights” platform.

All have spoken about the importance of their Christian faith and their goals to empower parents — at a time when conservative activists are working to restrict access to certain books and teaching materials and oppose LGBTQ-inclusion education, in the name of “parents rights” and morality.

Broward board votes to delay vote on national superintendent search

Also on Wednesday, the Broward school board decided to postpone a vote on whether to select a firm to conduct a national search for a new superintendent — after multiple members argued the move would be premature as Superintendent Cartwright’s future is still up in the air.

“This is a huge decision to make. And we have a lot of drama and chaos going on right now. So, if not any other reason except to follow procedure … move it to next week,” said Board Member Nora Rupert. “It lines up with what we're getting ready to do next week.”

The board voted 6 to 3 to postpone the discussion until Jan. 24, when Cartwright’s fate is expected to be decided. Members Torey Alston, Daniel Foganholi and Allen Zeman voted against the motion.

At the Jan. 24 meeting, the board is scheduled to vote once again on whether to fire Cartwright, following a series of complaints about staff morale, district mismanagement and several negative audits of district contracts.

Cartwright was not at Wednesday’s meeting. She was called to the Florida Board of Education’s meeting in Fernandina Beach to explain why the district hasn’t submitted a plan on how to pay out state-funded raises for teachers.

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Matias J. Ocner / Miami Herald
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Broward Schools Superintendent Vickie Cartwright exits the Kathleen C. Wright Administration Center on Friday, Aug. 26, 2022 after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended four Broward County School Board members.

DeSantis appointee becomes vice chair

The Miami-Dade County School Board chose an appointee of Gov. Ron DeSantis to be its new vice chair, in a sign of how much the makeup of the board has changed following the elections and appointments of members aligned with the governor.

The board’s conservative-leaning majority outnumbered the liberal-leaning members in a vote on Wednesday to make Daniel Espino the second-in-command – even though he’s only been on the board for two months. DeSantis appointed him to the post last November, after Board Member Christi Fraga resigned to take another office.

Unlike most of his colleagues on the board, Espino has not worked as an educator. Espino is a lawyer and has spent much of his career as a city attorney for municipalities across the county, according to his district biography.

Board Member Steve Gallon voted against the move. “We are – as we see through this particular action – going through a significant and very rapid and unanticipated transition in leadership,” Gallon said. “Institutional knowledge is critically important.”

Gallon nominated Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, arguing that she was best suited for the post as a former teacher, principal, state lawmaker, and the board’s longest serving member.

The board’s four liberal-leaning members voted for Bendross-Mindingall. Notably, Chair Mari-Tere Rojas, who has served with Bendross-Mindingall on the board since 2016, voted for Espino.

Kate Payne is WLRN's education reporter