Three school district seats are open in Osceola County, and the winners may face more coronavirus fallout than most school board leaders face.
Oceola’s tourism-based economy has cratered. Tough decisions on the budget and other issues loom.
Like most counties, Osceola plans to offer a choice whether to send their children back to school. That’s a critical issue considering many students need the ancillary benefits like meal and other programs that aren’t available in remote learning.
Experience and administrative skills are a premium these days. Here are the candidates we feel are best positioned to help the school district navigate these challenging times.
Julius Melendez in District 2
Incumbent Kelvin Soto was a valuable board member but resigned to run for Osceola County clerk of courts. Replacing him will not be easy, but Melendez stands out in the three-person field.
Kerly Santos and Jochua Cora Santiago are both political newcomers. Santos has been a substitute teacher and done extensive volunteer work in county schools. She's no doubt attuned to the needs of students, but her lack of administrative experience is a concern.
Same with Cora, who works for Alianza for Progress, a Hispanic political organization, and taught briefly in the Osceola school system. He is against reopening schools but offered no alternatives for working parents, saying schools should not be daycare centers.
They shouldn't, but the fact is that's one of the services they provide for tens of thousands of Osceola County families that have nowhere else to turn.
Melendez realizes that and is for a safe reopening. Moreover, he was a School Board member during the 2008 economic meltdown and helped guide the district through those lean times.
Melendez has an interesting resume. He’s a Realtor and has an MBA and a degree in Information Technology. He was combat medic during the Iraq War and Rep. Darren Soto appointed him to the Veterans Advisory Committee in 2016.
All that makes him the clear choice to fill Soto's seat.
Jeffrey Rivera in District 5
This seat is being vacated by Ricky Booth, who is running for county commissioner. There's not much separating the candidates, but Rivera's administrative background gives him the edge over Robert Bass.
Bass is a Realtor with a resume laden with volunteer work, from coaching Little League to being Harmony High’s athletic booster club president to heading the St. Cloud Christmas Parade to serving on the school district’s Business Advisory Board.
His community work is laudable, but translating good intentions into policy is not simple. When it comes to plans he'd bring to the district, Bass is long on generalities but short on specifics.
Rivera's ideas are more focused, like restructuring programs for students with special needs. He runs a home-healthcare company, is an online professor with Purdue University's Allied Health Department and chairman of the St. Cloud Planning Commission.
Rivera is more prepared to do the job from day one, so he is our choice for District 5.
Jon Argüello in District 3
This race is in legal limbo after a judge ruled last week that Victor Cruz is ineligible to run. Cruz serves on the Concorde Estates Community Development District, and state law required him to resign from that elected position before qualifying for the school district race.
The lawsuit was filed by Argüello, who is petitioning the supervisor of elections to declare that all votes for Cruz will be nullified. A decision is expected next week, but it seems likely Cruz will eventually be ruled ineligible.
That simplified our endorsement decision, since it was a close call between Argüello and Cruz.
Cruz is a criminal justice professor at Valencia College and formerly taught in the Osceola County school system. He's plugged in to the system's needs and has viable plans to address them.
What he lacks is a grasp of the pandemic's impact on the county's most at-risk students. He is firmly against reopening schools for the entire 2020-2021 school year.
There are unquestionably health risks with face-to-face learning. But there are also severe consequences in not even giving parents the option of sending their children to school. Cruz had no plan to address those needs, nor did the third candidate in the race, Casmore Shaw.
Argüello, who has a history of school volunteer work, wants reopen schools. He lacks Cruz’s working knowledge of the school system, but Argüello has a law degree and businessman with administrative skills.
That said, we were troubled by Argüello’s history of driving infractions and especially a battery charge in 2018. He said he pushed his 16-year-old son while they were arguing. A neighbor saw the incident and called police.
"It was a momentary lapse of judgment between two people whose emotions got the best of them," he said.
We trust there will be no more lapses of judgment, and Argüello will ably fill the District 3 seat.
Editorials are the opinion of the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board and are written by one of its members or a designee. The editorial board consists of Opinion Editor Mike Lafferty, Jennifer A. Marcial Ocasio, Jay Reddick, David Whitley and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson. Send emails to email@example.com.
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