Miami Herald | By Sommer Brugal | November 22, 2022
In less than 10 minutes and with no discussion, the new Miami-Dade School Board elected Maria Teresa Rojas and Lubby Navarro to be the new chair and vice chair, respectively — solidifying a Republican stronghold on the board.
Rojas, a board member since 2016 who won reelection in August, was elected in a 9-0 vote. Navarro, appointed by former Gov. Rick Scott in 2015 and then elected in 2016 and 2020, was elected in a 5-4 vote, with Rojas and three of the new members, whom Gov. Ron DeSantis either endorsed or appointed, voting alongside her.
Board members Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, Luisa Santos and Lucia Baez-Geller voted for former Vice Chair Steve Gallon III, who voted for himself, to continue in his leadership role. Santos nominated him. (Notably, Rojas and Gallon have previously been considered allies on the board, despite their sometimes opposing viewpoints.)
“This is a dream come true,” Rojas told the Herald after the vote. “This new responsibility is one I take very seriously, because all the decisions we make impact all of our stakeholders, most importantly the students.” Rojas, a former district teacher, principal and district administrator, said she is “looking forward to [overseeing] a unified board.”
Rojas is the sister-in-law of Carlos Gimenez, the former Miami-Dade mayor and now GOP U.S. House member.
NEW MEMBERS SWORN IN
The elections came after the board welcomed two new members, Roberto Alonso and Monica Colucci, who were backed by DeSantis and won their elections in August. Alonso succeeds longtime board member and chairwoman Perla Tabares Hantman, who stepped down Monday after nearly three decades on the board. Colucci replaced Marta Pérez, another longtime board member whom she defeated in the primaries.
Last week, Alsono and Colucci were ceremoniously sworn in by Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez during an unofficial ceremony. The event, held one day before the board’s final meeting, was scheduled after the members-elect requested it so family and friends could attend; Tuesday’s event, just two days before Thanksgiving, would have prevented many from attending, according to district officials.
Daniel Espino, a local attorney and former Miami Springs city councilman, was also sworn in Tuesday. DeSantis appointed Espino Monday night to succeed Christi Fraga, who stepped down Monday to continue her campaign for mayor of Doral in the Dec. 13 runoff election. He unsuccessfully ran for the school board in 2012, but is a newcomer to education and the board.
Bendross-Mindingall and Rojas were also sworn in for the third and second times, respectively.
A CONSERVATIVE MAJORITY
The new board’s makeup — and its leadership — all but guarantees a 5-4 conservative lean on the board.
Alonso and Colucci campaigned on platforms that mirror DeSantis’ education agenda, which amplifies parents’ rights and endorses a “back-to-basics” education model that focuses on core subjects such as reading, writing, math and civics. Along the campaign trail and in their acceptance speeches, both claimed they’d reject what they deem to be extreme agendas and espoused a common phrase echoed among Republicans and DeSantis, “education, not indoctrination.”
Both have ties to Moms for Liberty, a Florida parents’ organization whose members often echo QAnon conspiracy theories. Still, they have maintained they’ll act independently.
Like the other DeSantis-backed candidates, Espino in his speech Tuesday reiterated his support for parents’ rights, arguing there’s never been “a more critical time” for parents to play a central role in their child’s education. A father of four, Espino said schools should focus on the fundamentals of education.
While speaking to reporters after the swearing-in ceremony, Espino said certain topics or conversations surrounding sexuality should be left out of the classroom. He declined to comment on the board’s July decision to adopt a comprehensive sexual health textbook after first banning the book.
He said he intends to uphold the state law that “limits what exactly can or cannot be articulated in the classroom in regards to sexual orientation and gender ideology.”
The three new board members join Navarro, a staunch conservative, and Rojas, who is viewed as a possible swing vote, though her support of Navarro, not Gallon, could indicate a more steady conservative vote.
Board members Baez-Geller, Bendross-Mindingall, Gallon and Santos are viewed as the more liberal members on the board.