In electing new leader, school board wants influence in Tallahassee, shorter meetings

The Miami-Dade School Board meets in July 2017.
The Miami-Dade School Board meets in July 2017.

After a disappointing year in Tallahassee, the Miami-Dade School Board has elected a new leader some hope will be more successful in advocating the school district’s interests before the Legislature.

Following an hour of discussion and 30 rounds of voting Tuesday, board members chose Perla Tabares Hantman as the new chair — her 10th time serving in the leadership role. Tabares Hantman’s relationships with state lawmakers and experience running board meetings were among the reasons cited for the decision.

“We cannot blindly just pass and not look at the issues we’re facing and the support we need in Tallahassee, and Tallahassee is about access and relationships,” said board member Lubby Navarro, who nominated Tabares Hantman for the position. “We need to be poised to achieve success this coming year in Tallahassee.”

Perla Tabares Hantman was elected chair of the Miami-Dade School Board on Tuesday, her tenth time serving in the leadership position. Courtesy to the Miami Herald

The 2017 legislative session created a major headache for the Miami-Dade school district after state lawmakers passed a charter school-friendly, $419 million K-12 public schools law that forces districts to share millions of local tax dollars earmarked for school construction with charter schools. Miami-Dade predicts the new law, known as HB 7069, will cost the school district $250 million over five years.

In August, the School Board voted to join a lawsuit seeking to overturn portions of the law, including the construction funding. Tabares Hantman was the only member who voted against joining litigation, a position that board member Marta Pérez argued should disqualify her from serving as chair.

“I think the leadership on the board should be reflective of the position of the board,” Pérez said. “All of us went out of our way with 7069, including our superintendent. I mean the only thing that we didn’t do was get on our hands and knees,” she said.

State politics weren’t the only factor in Tuesday’s vote. Some board members said they were also hoping for shorter meetings.

Under previous chairman Larry Feldman, the board’s monthly meetings often stretched late into the night with some lasting 12 hours or longer. Board member Susie Castillo said she hoped Tabares Hantman would run the meetings more quickly, as she had when she previously served as chair (1999-2001 and 2010-15).

“I don’t want to go through the learning curve of a few more months of having longer meetings,” Castillo said. “Our meetings have been long enough as it is and I would like to see efficiency.”

Tabares Hantman agreed that she runs a tight ship. “I’m very strict,” she said. “I let them all speak, but there’s a time where I have to bring it back to me.”

After serving as chairman for one year, Feldman announced in October that he did not want to remain in the position. Under Feldman’s leadership, the school district celebrated academic successes including the elimination of all F-rated district schools.

The board also elected Martin Karp as vice chair on Tuesday. Karp served as vice chair before (2006 and 2012).