Members of the Alachua County School Board made a mistake in passing Tina Certain as president, sending the wrong message at a time when the board is expected to garner public support.
As vice chairman of the board, Certain was the next to become chairman on a rotational basis for the position. But board members Rob Hyatt, Gunnar Paulson and Mildred Russell instead skipped Certain in order to name Hyatt president for the third time.
Paulson and Russell almost compounded the mistake by also trying to drop Certain as vice president in favor of Russell, who was just appointed to the board in August. Fortunately, Hyatt changed her mind and joined board member Leanetta McNealy in voting to keep Certain as vice president.
Passing over Certain sent the wrong message to a school district that has long struggled with the biggest racial gap in student test scores in the state. Sure, McNealy and former board member Diyonne McGraw are all black women who had formed a majority on the board determined to finally close the gap.
But Gov. Ron DeSantis removed McGraw from the board after revelations she lived in a different district than the one she was elected to represent. DeSantis went on to appoint Russell, an evangelical missionary active in Republican politics, to take the seat even as McGraw continues to challenge his impeachment in court.
Since his appointment to the board, Russell has questioned District Superintendent Carlee Simon’s credentials. Now, there are suggestions that the new majority on the board, with Hyatt as chairman, will try to fire Simon. Such a move would add to an already tumultuous atmosphere around the set.
In recent months, the district has fought with the DeSantis administration to demand that students wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As has happened with other school boards across the country facing these issues, board members have faced protests and even threats.
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Hyatt told us that one of his goals as chairman is to stop the “circus atmosphere” at board meetings. Rejecting any effort to oust Simon would be a good way to start.
Simon is expected to continue working until after next year’s election, when four board seats will be available for a vote. The newly elected council members will then be able to decide whether they agree with his vision for the district.
In the meantime, current board members should put aside their personal differences for the sake of the students in the district. The COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened issues such as the achievement gap. The district could use a united front on board support plans to spend an estimated $ 61.5 million in federal relief funds to help address these issues.
Racially dividing the council is hampering efforts to involve parents in these plans and other changes in the district. A district-wide rezoning initiative if needed will be controversial enough without continuing conflicts between board members continuing. And board members had better be on the same page before the One Mill for Schools initiative comes back to the vote.
Replacing Certain as president must mark the end of a controversial chapter for the council, not the start of new conflicts that only make it more difficult to ensure that every child in the district receives a quality education.
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