By PineApple Report Staff | November 18, 2021
KISSIMMEE, Fla—Few were prepared for the quick and quiet transition of power to Osceola’s first Hispanic Woman being elected chair of the Osceola County School Board. The superintendent, chairing the meeting and organizational process, couldn’t finish the word “nominations” before the first nomination was eagerly made by one of the school board members.
Teresa Castillo, elected in 2018 and currently seeking reelection, is now charged with leading a complex body that has seen shifting alliances and priorities. As vice chair, her nomination was no surprise, the board member who seconded her nomination however was.
In a somewhat awkward nomination, Board Member Julius Melendez, elected as the vice chair the same evening, said, “Nominate! I nominate Ms. Castillo to be the chairwoman of the school board.”
Melendez, who served previously on the board from 2008 until 2011 when a deployment with the National Guard took him to Iraq, was the first Hispanic to serve on the school board and now finds himself as the vice chair again having won reelection in 2020.
Board Member Jon Arguello, also a combat veteran and elected in 2020, looked to his left and right during the subsequent pause seemingly surprised that neither of the other board members in Castillo’s alliance was willing to take further action, seconded the motion.
The move has many in the Central Florida political world asking if there is a groundbreaking shift in the power makeup of the board. Has the Hispanic majority coalesced and become one?
Nearly 18 months ago the Pineapple Report staff wrote an article “When the minority becomes the majority, what then?” touching on the subject (read story here). The historical Hispanic majority, however, has been anything but. Based on the past inclinations of the board, even if the three Hispanics do come together to form a new bloc, it won’t appear to be over ethnicity, but hopefully for good public policy.
While there are clear differences in the policy views of the three Hispanics, aside from ideological perspectives, they appear to have similar preferences on others, and now with Arguello’s move to seat Castillo in the chair position, there is clear potential for a paradigm shift if this faction solidifies into something more.
Both have demonstrated effective abilities to advocate on behalf of their position and their sometimes-fiery dispositions and passion creates an entertaining process.
Castillo has proven to be determined and vocal on issues and has stuck to her guns on more than one occasion. She has not shied away when important policy issues have become heated and has battled her colleagues publicly.
Arguello, who clearly isn’t afraid to take an irreverent approach, is a political conundrum. He has clearly come out as a conservative leaning board member. Somehow Arguello single-handedly defeated mask mandate initiatives on one hand while he continues to be a staunch union supporter on the other.
One thing is for sure, Osceola County has become an interesting board to watch as evidenced by the increase in viewership on YouTube. Prior to the elections of 2020, an average of fewer than 50 viewers watched the meetings. Since the election, meetings have had as many as 5,900 viewers and have packed the lobby to capacity on multiple occasions.
One educational expert has contributed the results to three reasons. COVID-19 related educational policy has made school boards relevant. The possibility of fireworks at each meeting is another. And third the dynamic quality of Castillo’s and Arguello’s relationship.
If these three figures begin to work together, not only would it shake up the county dynamic, but it could shake up education in Central Florida for years to come.