The run-up to the School Board District 6 election has been filled with candidate forums and meet-and-greets, events designed to give voters the opportunity to ask candidates where they stand on issues.
School Board candidate Maria Teresa “Mari Tere” Rojas, who is running to represent residents in Key Biscayne, Coral Gables and South Miami, has missed many of them.
Rojas did not attend an elegant candidate forum at the Key Biscayne Yacht Club in early August, or another later that month at the War Memorial Youth Center Theater in Coral Gables. She skipped two meet-and-greets sponsored by the League of Women Voters this fall, although she did participate in their voters’ guide, and failed to respond to questionnaires sent by the Brickell Homeowners Association and the LGBT advocacy group SAVE.
Her opponent, Modesto “Mo” Abety, believes her low-profile reflects her campaign strategy. Rojas is the sister-in-law of Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Abety believes she plans to “ride [his] coattails” until election day.
“I've attended every event which gives me an opportunity to get out in front of the voters and explain my position and why I'm running,” said Abety, the former president of The Children’s Trust. “My opponent has missed an awful lot of those. I haven't seen her at one. And so the feeling that I get is that she feels she doesn't have to answer those questions, she doesn't have to be accountable.”
Rojas declined to speak with The Herald but disputed the characterization in an email. She wrote that she is running on her 40 years of professional experience in education and that she has focused on grassroots campaigning.
“I have met with thousands of constituents over these last few months,” said Rojas, a former Miami-Dade teacher, principal and administrator. “My days mostly consist of walking door to door, and meeting the voters in person to inform them of who I am, and explain my platform so that they are cognizant of my priorities as a School Board member.”
Rojas said she has attended “countless community events” in the district, although she did not provide specifics. “I am not a politician,” she said. “Running for the School Board is a natural extension of my career as a lifelong educator.”
Rojas and Abety faced off in the August primaries along with two other candidates vying to represent District 6. Rojas had a double-digit lead over Abety in that vote, but her total was just below the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff.
There are a lot of issues on voters’ minds in District 6. Residents in Brickell are concerned about building enough schools to accommodate the neighborhood’s rapidly growing population, while parents in Coral Gables are focused on giving children more recess and less homework.
With a $5 billion budget and 350,000 students, the Miami-Dade school district is the fourth largest in the country. School Board members make decisions about everything from school construction to homework and recess policies.