Throughout the State of Florida, numerous school districts will likely have changes to the current demographic composition of their Boards. The effects of such change merits questioning because of the impact these newly elected policymakers will have on schools and the safety and well-being of the students and families. Given the current pressure faced by school districts as they prepare to re-open, decisions must be made related to the adherence of the evolving Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) and State of Florida’s guidelines. The voters responsibility is also greater given all that is at stake. Voters should question not only a candidates’ knowledge of the school system, but what set of values they bring with them from a cultural and ethnic perspective.
One such school district that could possibly see great change in its school Board’s ethnic demographics is the School District of Osceola County, where three of the five board members are not seeking re-election. Ricky Booth is seeking a seat on the county commission and Kelvin Soto is running to replace the Clerk of Courts. The third board member, Tim Weisheyer has chosen not to run again.
This change can possibly have dramatic impact, not simply because of COVID-19, but because of the inherent values that will frame the decisions likely to be made by this new board with a different ethnic composition.
The Osceola County School Board could be comprised by a Hispanic majority for the first time in history. Currently there are only two Hispanic Board members; a third will provide for a majority.
In a county historically controlled by cattle ranchers and citrus growers dating back many generations, having three Hispanics on the Osceola School Board could be just another sign of the changing times in Central Florida. This may be the proverbial wave of immigrants and hurricane Maria transplants reaching the hillside and preparing to overtake the hill. Without making a judgment as to the advantages or disadvantages this shift could bring about significant changes for Hispanics and more representation of the residents, who are not necessarily all voters.
Will these new potential board members implement school policies that are framed by a sensitivity to first generation Spanish-speaking children and families? As in many parts of this State of Florida, where the minority has become the majority, these changes bring great hope along with also great fear depending on which side of the cattle fence you are on.
As Mr. Kelvin Soto, an Osceola School Board member shared with the PineApple Report, “being Hispanic is not really determinant – education policy and school district goals are shaped more by the board member’s education, philosophy and life experience rather than their ethnicity. I do not know a lot, but the little I know, I have very little in common with the Hispanic candidates.”
The three seats up for grabs are in District 2, currently held by Kelvin Soto, District 5, currently held by Ricky Booth and District 3, currently held by Tim Weisheyer. As of the April 30, 2020 campaign financial reports, each of the three races appear to have a clear financial front runner, with a total of eight candidates vying for these seats as follows.
In the race for District 2, replacing Mr. Soto, the candidates are P. Jochua Cora Santiago with a reported $1003 raised, former school board member Julius Melendez with a total of $6,740, and Kerly Santos with $1,820.
In the race for District 3, the potential third Hispanic seat on the Board, the candidates are Jon H. Arguello with an overwhelming fundraising lead of $15,794, Victor Cruz with no contributions to date and Casmore A. Shaw with a total of $900.
In the race for District 5, which appears that it will remain a non-Hispanic seat, the candidates are Robert Bass with a total raised of $7,850 and Jeffery Rivera with only $25.
So it remains to be seen who will win and if money is any indication of the outcome, the School Board of Osceola County could have the third seat needed to complete a majority of positions won by Hispanics. The new elected officials would serve along side school boards members Terry Castillo, the third Hispanic, and Clarence Tacker. The big question will then be, how does the minority handle power when they become the majority in terms of their decisions on policies that meet and are representative of the needs of ALL the students and families dependent on the Osceola School District for an education that prepares them for a greater future.