The races begin: Miami-Dade school board elections gear up

Three school board races will be decided when voters go to the polls in the August 30, 2016 primary, with two incumbents running to hold onto their seats and another district wide open.
Three school board races will be decided when voters go to the polls in the August 30, 2016 primary, with two incumbents running to hold onto their seats and another district wide open. For the Miami Herald

Three incumbents automatically won re-election to the Miami-Dade County School Board after no one filed to run against them.

Still, it will be a busy political season, with three races to be decided when voters go to the polls in the Aug. 30 primary. Two incumbents are running to hold on to their seats, and another district is wide open after board member Raquel Regalado stepped down to run for county mayor.

Board members Susie Castillo, Lawrence Feldman and Martin Karp won another four-year term by default after no one filed to run against them by last week’s deadline.

“There’s a lot of work that lies ahead, whether it’s the budget or the five-year capital plan. So I’ve got a lot to be busy about,” Karp said.

But Wilbert “Tee” Holloway of District 1 and Lubby Navarro of District 7 face challenges to retain their seats.

Wilbert “Tee” Holloway, left, and Steve Gallon III are running for the District 1 seat on the Miami-Dade County school board.


Holloway faces Steve Gallon III, a former Miami-Dade principal with considerable community support and a long but scandal-marred career in education. James Bush III, a former state representative, is also competing. The district encompasses Miami Gardens, Carol City and North Miami.

Holloway, who has served almost 10 years on the board, finds himself at a substantial fundraising deficit. The recently retired AT&T executive has $27,000 in his campaign chest, while Gallon has raised almost $83,000 — including more than $15,000 loaned to himself.

Holloway did not return a call and email for comment.

Gallon, 47, served as a Miami-Dade teacher who went on to become principal at Northwestern Senior High and later a district department director. In 2008, Gallon was named superintendent of Plainfield Public Schools in central New Jersey — a stint that quickly became enveloped in controversy.

In 2010, Gallon was arrested for, prosecutors said, using a false address to enroll his godsons in school. The charges were dismissed after he agreed to never work in New Jersey schools again.

In Florida, Gallon started an education consulting company. His work with financially-troubled South Florida charter schools became intertwined in state and district ethics investigations, but Gallon was not found to have committed any violations.

Gallon says the controversies have been overblown and that they overshadow his accomplishments, such as the creation of new high schools and improving school safety in New Jersey. Closer to home, Gallon says his long history in the community, serving at-risk kids and in some of the area’s most venerated schools, has earned him the support of voters and donors.

“My life and my career and my legacy is far more than a snippet of a few years — not actually a few years, a moment of time — in Plainfield, New Jersey,” he said.

Bush did not return a phone call for comment.

From left: Modesto “Mo” Abety, Maria Teresa “Mari Tere” Rojas, Gus Machado and Pedro Mora are running for the District 6 seat on the Miami-Dade County school board.


The crowded race for District 6 has attracted Modesto “Mo” Abety — former president of the Children’s Trust and White House appointee to the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics — as well as Maria Teresa “Mari Tere” Rojas, a 39-year school district veteran and the sister-in-law of the current county mayor.

“I’m a big believer that we need to intervene early and that parents need to be better educated around preparing their children to enter school,” said Abety, 65. “I’ve been dedicated to the health, welfare and safety [of children] my entire life, and I see this as an opportunity to continue that.”

Rojas touts her experience as an award-winning teacher, principal and district administrator.

“When I began working as a teacher 40 years ago, I made a commitment to be dedicated to the well-being of children in my community,” she said. “I’ve had the opportunity to work in different capacities, all of which prepared me, I think, for the responsibility that would follow as a school board member.”

Also in the running: corporate travel salesman Gus Machado (no relation to the Gus Machado of car dealership fame) and security consultant Pedro Mora.

Machado, 48, said he was inspired to run by his two sons, who have special needs. While looking for the right programs for them, Machado said he spent a year visiting schools and having conversations with administrators about services for children with disabilities. He also volunteers with Autism Rescue Mission.

“With both children, we’ve had to dedicate ourselves to special therapies and special schools, and not all schools offer the services,” he said. “We have to have more classrooms and more teachers for kids with autism.”

Mora, 54, is a director for Golden Security, which he said provides consulting and training in Latin America. He has a daughter who is a public school teacher and two other children who attend Southside Elementary.

If elected, Mora said he would push to expand Southside to include a middle school and to build a new high school for the area.

District 6 includes Key Biscayne, Coral Gables and South Miami.

Lubby Navarro, left, and Aster Bato Mohamed are running for the District 7 seat on the Miami-Dade County school board.


In District 7, Navarro faces retired teacher Aster Bato Mohamed to hold on to the seat that covers parts of Kendall, South Miami Heights and Homestead.

Navarro was executive director of intergovernmental affairs for the school district until she was appointed to the school board by Gov. Rick Scott in February 2015. The seat was left open after U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo won election to Congress.

Navarro, who also has experience serving on the Redland Community Council and in the U.S. Coast guard Auxiliary, has positioned herself as a champion for children with special needs. She points to the creation of a certification program for marine technology jobs, and rolling applications for magnet schools, as some of her accomplishments while on the board.

“I’m very happy about it because it creates choice in our public schools,” she said.

Mohamed was a classroom teacher for 17 years and also worked on parental-engagement initiatives within district administration. Her résumé also includes numerous volunteer positions with local organizations such as the Miami-Dade Police Kendall/Hammocks District Advisory Committee and Kendall Federation of Homeowners Associations.

Mohamed, 72, wants to lobby Tallahassee for changes to the state’s standardized testing and work with parents to get them more involved in their kids’ schools. She also proposes partnering with the business community and libraries to provide more programming in the arts and sports.

“It takes the whole community to educate,” she said.

Voters go to the polls Aug. 30. Runoffs, if necessary, will be held Nov. 8.

Christina Veiga: 305-376-2029, @cveiga