Miami Herald | By Sommer Brugal | Updated April 28, 2022
The longtime Miami-Dade County School Board Chair Perla Tabares Hantman announced Wednesday she would not seek reelection this fall, paving the way for what could be an uncontested race for the only person running for her seat: A Miami Dade College trustee whom Gov. Ron Desantis appointed in 2020.
“It has been my great honor and privilege to serve the people of Florida and Miami-Dade County for nearly thirty two years; first as a member of the Florida Board of Regents, and then for twenty six wonderful years as a member of the School Board,” she said in a letter addressed to Miami-Dade Schools Family, Colleagues and Community, obtained by the Herald.
Hantman, 81, was elected in 1996 to represent District 4. In November, she was reelected as board chair for the 14th time (nonconsecutive). She is the first Hispanic woman to serve as chair, according to the district.
Roberto J. Alonso, 42, filed to run for the District 4 seat earlier this month. Born to Cuban parents in Hialeah, Alonso graduated from Monsignor Edward Pace High School and holds an associate’s degree from MDC and a bachelor’s from Florida International University. He developed educational software before returning to work in his family’s real estate business, Costa Realtors. No one else has filed to run for the District 4 seat.
DeSantis appointed Alonso to the MDC Board in July 2020. His four-year term runs through 2024.
A review of political contributions filed with the Florida Division of Elections shows Alonso contributed $250 in 2018 to the campaign of State Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, whom DeSantis recently appointed to lead the Florida Department of Education. He also contributed $250 in 2021 to Alex Rizo, the Republican from Hialeah elected to the Florida House in 2020.
Alonso was not immediately available for comment Wednesday.
BOARD ELECTION COMES AMID POLITICIZATION OF SCHOOLS
Hantman’s departure comes in an election year when education — and school boards — have become increasingly political.
This year, the Republican-led Florida Legislature moved to increase parental involvement in schools. Most recently, the state rejected dozens of math textbooks, claiming they had “indoctrinating concepts.”
Just last week, DeSantis signed the “Individual Freedom” bill known as the “Stop Woke Act” and two other bills at Mater Academy Charter Middle/High School in Hialeah Gardens, where he was flanked with children holding “Stop Woke” and anti-critical race theory signs. DeSantis has made education a key plank of his political agenda.
Hantman’s desire to do what’s best for students and teachers set her apart, said United Teachers of Dade President Karla Hernandez-Mats.
In a time when many Republican leaders are “trying to undermine and dismantle public schools,” Hantman, also a Republican, has fought to preserve public education “with dignity and a true heart,” Hernandez-Mats said.
For that reason, she said, Hantman’s successor must be someone who is committed to public education.
“I want her legacy to last,” Hernandez-Mats said. “I’m eager to see who will come out to run now.”
Three other board members are slated to run for reelection this year: Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall (District 2); Mari Tere Rojas (District 6); and Marta Pérez (District 8). There is a primary on Aug. 23 and the general election is Nov. 8.
Neither Rojas nor Pérez have challengers, according to election records. La-Shanda West, the iPrep Academy leader at Cutler Bay Senior High, is running against Bendross-Mindingall. She’s raised $2,290 compared with $22,750 raised by Bendross-Mindingall, according to Miami-Dade County election records.
HANTMAN FOUGHT FOR ‘CHILDREN AND FAMILIES IN EVERY ZIP CODE’
For nearly three decades, Hantman has “proved a purposeful, pragmatic, passionate, and professional hand to our district and to the greater community we serve,” Vice Chair Steve Gallon III said in a statement. She “epitomizes service and commitment to all employees, and even more importantly, one who has ensured fair and equitable learning and access opportunities for children and families in every ZIP code.”
Gallon, a staunch ally of Hantman on the board, called her an “exemplary role model and professional pillar” to all who fight for education.
Hantman also had a long history with former Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who left the district in February to lead Los Angeles public schools. She was the vice chair when the board hired Carvalho as superintendent in 2008. Pérez, on the board since 1998, was also on the board at that time.
On Thursday, Superintendent Jose Dotres, who replaced Carvalho, said Hantman provided a “calm and steady leadership” to the district and has served “as a trusted mentor to countless school leaders including myself.”
The chair’s “wisdom, patience, and unbridled commitment to the children and workforce of this district stand as an extraordinary example of public service,” he said in a statement
Hernandez-Mats shared similar sentiments to Gallon, crediting Hantman with many of the improvements the district has undergone during her tenure.
Previously, there was a negative connotation with the district, she said; now, the district is “a beacon in our community [and that’s] largely due to her experience. She’s been a constant.”
For Hantman, the decision to step aside has been “contemplated for some time,” her announcement to staff said. But after three decades, she wrote, “I believe the time has come for me to explore the next chapter of my life and enjoy time with my children and grandchildren.”
In her letter, she touted her accomplishments, highlighting the district’s transformation from a struggling school system to an A-rated district with a graduation rate exceeding 90%.
Hantman plans to serve the remainder of her term, which concludes in November.
“While I am stepping away from elected office at this time, I am not stepping away from service and involvement in my community,” she wrote. “I will always remain a staunch advocate for our students, our workforce and my beloved school board.”
Miami Herald Staff Writer Jimena Tavel contributed to this report.