Miami-Dade County

In mayoral campaign, a fight over alleged truancy at school board

Raquel Regalado speaks to the Miami Herald Editorial Board

Raquel Regalado speaks to the Miami Herald Editorial Board Aug. 10, 2016.
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Raquel Regalado speaks to the Miami Herald Editorial Board Aug. 10, 2016.

Raquel Regalado’s six years on the school board form the centerpiece of her run for Miami-Dade mayor, so a recent mailer declaring her a “no-show” member hits at the heart of her campaign.

The flier produced by the reelection effort of Mayor Carlos Gimenez says Regalado was late or absent to close to half of the board meetings and missed almost a third of the scheduled votes. Does she actually have a truancy problem?

Attendance records since 2014 show Regalado has never missed what’s called the “regular session” of school board meetings — the segment that deals with policy, contracts, spending and discipline of school employees. That’s scheduled to start at 1 p.m. during the once-a-month meeting.

But records show that Regalado frequently skips the pre-lunch, 11 a.m. segment dedicated to “Presentations of Resolutions,” where members approve declarations for honoring various schools, administrators, causes and students.

“I’m not a big fan of the resolutions,” Regalado said. “That’s not business.”

She described an early policy changes she passed after winning her District 6 seat in 2010, which limited the amount of resolutions that members could sponsor at each meeting. “It was just too much,” she said.

Attendance records reflect Regalado’s approach and how different it is from a majority of the nine-member board. Regalado was listed as absent for 12 of the monthly resolution sessions since January 2014, the highest on the board. Four members didn’t miss any.

The first meeting of 2014, on Jan. 15, shows Regalado and three others absent for the resolution votes. Among the resolutions passed that morning were commendations for South Dade Senior High on a state football championship, and for Marlow Rosado, who moved from a music teacher at Majory Stoneman Douglas Elementary to winning a 2013 Grammy for Best Tropical Latin Album. Another resolution declared March to be “Florida Bike Month.”

Jesse Manzano-Plaza, Gimenez’s campaign manager, criticized Regalado for brushing off the resolutions part of the school board meeting, since the commendations have value to constituents and the public. “I bet you that for other people who showed up for that part of the meeting, it was important,” he said. “The other board members are showing up and participating.”

Regalado, who until recently hosted a four-times-a-week radio show on La Poderosa 670 AM, said she will sometimes leave her board seat to host part of the program by phone — sometimes with interviews of school staff about the proceedings. “I go live from the school board, saying what we’re doing there,” she said. On meeting days, Regalado said she typically pre-records segments for the hour-long show and hosts about 15 minutes from the downtown school-system headquarters.

Aside from the show, Regalado said she sometimes leaves the dais to conduct media interviews about school issues or meet with staff about upcoming issues. “Just because I’m not sitting at my chair the entire time doesn’t mean I’m not there,” she said.

Gimenez, Regalado and five other candidates are competing in the Aug. 30 primary for county mayor, a non-partisan post.

The mailer by Miami-Dade Residents First, a political committee that Gimenez raises money for, was issued in English and Spanish. Its headline says “No-Show Regalado” and declares she has the worst voting record on the school board. Manzano-Plaza said the statements are based on her attendance at the resolution and regular sessions since she started on the board, culled from thousands of pages of minutes.

Minutes from the Jan. 15, 2014, meeting show that Regalado was in attendance for the 1 p.m. regular-business session, voting and participating in discussions. But the records also provide some fodder for the other criticism of the Gimenez mailer: missed votes.

Regalado is recorded as being “away from the dais” for five of the 17 votes recorded in regular session that day. That was more missed votes than anyone in attendance that day, though member Wilbert “Tee” Holloway was recorded as absent for the entire meeting.

Close votes are rare at the school board, and each of Regalado’s missed votes occurred on items that passed unopposed. One involved a report for the WLRN radio station’s charity arm (the school system owns the station’s broadcasting license), one was procedural and two involved resolutions not heard during the 11 a.m. session.

The fifth centered on a more consequential topic: a suspected sick-out by county bus drivers upset over contract issues. Minutes show Regalado participating in the discussion and raising questions about long-term issues involving the school system’s healthcare program. But when the vote came, the item requesting an investigation passed 7-0. “It is noted for the record that Ms. Regalado was away from the dais when this vote was taken.”

As mayor, Gimenez does not have a vote and is not a constant presence at the twice-a-month county commission meetings. Oftentimes, he has a deputy take his designated seat to answer questions from commissioners. Manzano-Plaza, the campaign manager, said Gimenez’s absences from the dais shouldn’t be compared to Regalado’s. “He doesn’t have to show up to vote,” Manzano-Plaza said. “Remember, the people who sit there are members of his administration. It would be different if the mayor’s office didn’t show up.”

This story was updated to reflect that the school board owns the radio broadcasting license for WLRN and its station headquarters, but the station itself is run by an independent non-profit

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