It has been 16 years since Marta Pérez first bounced an incumbent from office to earn a spot on the Miami-Dade School Board, and 16 years since she last ran a School Board campaign.
But it looks like Pérez — who was unopposed in 2002, 2006 and 2010 — will for the first time as an incumbent face a challenger this summer for her District 8 seat. Lawrence Orihuela, a retired public school teacher and university adjunct instructor, has filed to challenge her in August.
“My point of view will be different [from Pérez’s]. It’s not about what she has or hasn’t done. It’s about what I can offer to the school system,” said Orihuela, who taught in Miami-Dade public and private schools for more than 20 years.
Orihuela, a self-described “political junkie,” said he has pondered running for a seat on the School Board for years. He said he decided to challenge Pérez in part because no one has ever challenged her for her seat, which represents parts of central and west Miami-Dade.
“I think it’s time people in District 8 have a choice to pick someone, and have a discussion. If there’s no opposition, then there’s no discussion,” said Orihuela, 66. “With no discussion there’s no way of knowing what people really believe.”
Orihuela declined to opine on Pérez’s performance as a School Board member, or on the School Board in general. He said the only thing that matters is what he brings to the table: a doctorate in education, curriculum and instruction from Florida International University and two decades as an adjunct teaching future educators both at his alma mater and at Miami Dade College.
A challenge for Orihuela, however, is that as attractive as his credentials are, Pérez also has notable, similar bona fides. She is a retired Dade schoolteacher who holds a Ph.D. in educational leadership from the University of Miami — credentials that helped her defeat then-incumbent Renier Diaz de la Portilla back in 1998.
She has added a juris doctorate from St. Thomas University since then, and 16 years of School Board experience. During that time she earned a reputation as a maverick by being outspoken and frequently landing on the short end of 8-1 votes, like one last year to extend the contract of Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and give him a raise.
“Anyone is free to run,” said Pérez, 62. “The voters should look at my record for accountability and reform, and all of the positive things that have happened at the school district since I was elected.”
Pérez has lent her campaign $100,000. Orihuela, meanwhile, had yet to raise a penny as of the beginning of May.
So far, Pérez is the only School Board incumbent to draw an opponent.
Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, Raquel Regalado and board Chairwoman Perla Tabares Hantman have all filed to retain their seats. Bendross-Mindingall has raised $30,000, Tabares-Hantman has a war chest of $53,000, and Regalado has raised more than $100,000 and is already running radio spots.
Candidates for the nonpartisan School Board election must qualify by June 20.