DeSantis has another opportunity to shape the Miami-Dade School Board. Will it matter?
Miami Herald | By Sommer Brugal | January 03, 2023
Gov. Ron DeSantis will have yet another opportunity to appoint a member to the Miami-Dade County School Board following the recent resignation of Vice Chair Lubby Navarro, further underscoring Tallahassee’s influence on local school boards.
Navarro, who was appointed by former Gov. Rick Scott in 2015 and later elected in 2016 and 2020, stepped down Friday afternoon before a new Florida law prohibiting elected officials from working as lobbyists went into effect on Saturday, Dec. 31. The Constitutional Prohibition Against Lobbying by a Public Officer implements a constitutional amendment voters approved in 2018 and also bars state and local elected officials from lobbying their state agencies or offices for six years after leaving office.
Navarro is a registered lobbyist for the South Broward Hospital District, which includes the Memorial Healthcare System hospitals in Hollywood, Pembroke Pines, Miramar and Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital. In 2022, her Memorial salary was $183,751 and she received a bonus of $36,750, for a total compensation of $220,501, according to Memorial; the four-year salary for a Miami-Dade School Board member is $46,773, according to the Miami-Dade Elections Department.
In a Dec. 30 letter addressed to the governor, Navarro cited the new lobbying ban as the reason for her departure, adding, “It has been my honor and privilege to serve the residents of District 7, as their school board member since February 2015.” Her resignation was effective Friday.
Here are four things to know about her resignation:
NEW VICE CHAIR ELECTION
At the next school board meeting Jan. 18, members will elect a new vice chair to replace Navarro, according to the agenda. Navarro was elected vice chair in a 5-4 vote Nov. 22 following the official swearing-in ceremony after the board’s Aug. 23 primary election.
Mari Tere Rojas, who was elected as chair in a unanimous vote, supported Navarro’s vice chair nomination, as did Navarro and three of the new board members, whom DeSantis either endorsed or appointed: Roberto Alonso, Monica Colucci and Daniel Espino. Board members Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, Luisa Santos and Lucia Baez-Geller voted for former Vice Chair Steve Gallon III, as did he. Gallon could be nominated again as vice chair later this month.
DESANTIS TO NAME SUCCESSOR
The open seat is the second vacancy on the board this school year and is the second time DeSantis will appoint someone to the nine-member board. The appointment all but guarantees that a fourth DeSantis ally will sit on the historically nonpartisan board. (Navarro, for her part, was one of the more vocal conservatives on the board, but DeSantis did not endorse her.)
On Nov. 22, three DeSantis allies were sworn in to the board: Alonso, a businessman and Miami Dade College Board of Trustees member whom DeSantis appointed to that board in 2020; Colucci, a district teacher who took a break to work in the governor’s executive office as the special assistant to Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez from February 2019 to August 2020; and Espino, a local attorney and former Miami Springs city councilman.
DeSantis endorsed Alonso and Colucci in the August primaries. Alonso succeeded former board chair Tabares Hantman, who retired, to represent District 4. Colucci beat longtime board member Marta Pérez to represent District 8.
DeSantis tapped Espino on the eve of the swearing-in ceremony to replace Christi Fraga, the Miami-Dade School Board member who resigned in November after securing a spot in the Doral mayoral runoff election in December. (She won.)
Like Espino, Navarro’s successor will serve the second half of a four-year term. The two seats will be up for election in 2024.
POLITICAL LEANINGS LIKELY TO REMAIN THE SAME
A second DeSantis appointee is unlikely to significantly influence the board’s political leanings, as the newly sworn-in board, which included Navarro, had already solidified a Republican stronghold with five of the nine members aligning with conservative policies and stances, such as increased parental rights.
Indeed, the board members whom Alonso, Colucci and Espino replaced — Hantman, Pérez and Fraga, respectively — were conservatives, but at times, Tabares Hantman and Pérez sided with the more liberal members on the board, Baez-Geller, Bendross-Mindingall, Gallon and Santos.
In July, Tabares Hantman flipped her vote to adopt a comprehensive sexual health textbook, reversing a board vote to ban the book after realizing the board would likely be out of compliance with state law. Ahead of the vote, parents had invoked the controversial ‘Don’t say gay’ bill passed last year.
Navarro, for her part, had in recent months become increasingly more political. In April, she was criticized for suggesting that “God and Jesus Christ” were the only God. More recently, she voted against the sexual health textbook, rejected a motion to honor October as LGBTQ history month and claimed that parents were the district’s only customers.
However, another appointee does indicate a clear DeSantis connection to the school board, with four of the nine members endorsed or appointed by the Republican governor.
DESANTIS APPOINTEE ON BROWARD SCHOOL BOARD
One week before Navarro resigned from the Miami-Dade School Board, DeSantis appointed Daniel Foganholi to the Broward County School Board to replace Rodney “Rod” Velez, whom voters elected Nov. 8 but who can’t hold office because of his former criminal conviction. Foganholi will represent District 1.
It was Foganholi’s second appointment to the board — DeSantis first appointed him to the board on April 29 to fill the seat vacated by Rosalind Osgood, who stepped down in March to run successfully for the Florida Senate.
Foganholi’s appointment was the latest in a series of board member removals and appointments by the governor. In August, DeSantis ousted four sitting board members, all women, and named four men to replace them, all with ties to him or the Republican Party.
Of the four Broward School Board members DeSantis appointed in August, only one remains, Torey Alston. His District 2 seat does not come up for election until 2024.