Tuesday’s Osceola County School District’s Board Meeting started out as expected, with a discussion about whether face masks would be part of the soon coming 2021-2022 school year, and ended with some unfortunate heated discussion amongst board members. The public forum consisted of both sides of the discussion, some for students and teachers wearing masks – some for not wearing masks. With COVID-19 infections spiking and Florida’s Governor having just signed an executive order against any school district mandating mask-wearing, it’s anyone’s guess how the face-covering topic will play out as we approach the start of school. It’s sure to be a continuing discussion, one that will likely be heated and unsatisfactory for all sides of the issue.
A number of teachers expressed their dislike of the district’s change in how teacher workdays and the number of days teachers have this school year to prepare for classes to resume. Dr. Pace shared that she understood but had received much positive feedback from teachers that were in favor of the increased number of days that were given to teachers to prepare for the upcoming school year.
As expected, Board Member Jon Argüello made a motion for the district to end its relationship with Macy Island Consulting LLC, a lobbying firm owned by local political consultant Mike Horner that does work for the district. Horner was the subject of an email “press release” that was sent out to media last week by Argüello just before midnight on July 20 on what appeared to be district letterhead – that subject came up later in the meeting. Argüello attempted to make the point that Horner was not registered as a lobbyist and that it was an improper and poor use of finances to continue to use him. Board member Julius Melendez, who attended the meeting remotely, seconded the motion which lead to more discussion – some of it from Argüello being rather heated. The school district’s attorney shared that, as instructed in the previous meeting, he had researched whether Horner was registered as a lobbyist in Florida. His finding was that Horner was in fact registered to lobby for the district, but Horner failed to file additional paperwork, that as the attorney explained, happens quite often by lobbyists.
The attorney’s explanation seemed to bring no solace to Argüello, who then pushed forward for the vote, which failed 2-3. This seemed to set the “mood” for the remainder of the meeting, which sadly became personal with Argüello loudly accusing the board of unfairly attempting to silence him.
In the final moments of the conflict-filled board meeting, board Chair Clarence Thacker shared that he had been reflecting over the last couple of weeks that since the board came together 9 months ago he has tried to treat everyone with respect and dignity. He went on to say that he did so giving everyone time to speak and discuss issues whether they were in agreement or disagreement with each other.
Thacker said, “Transparency requires all views to be openly discussed, however in doing so, I feel I have let the superintendent, staff, students, and constituents down by not stressing the authority of the board, vs. individual board members.”
Thacker went on to explain that he was dissatisfied with how the board was functioning of late, saying he had allowed individual board members to act in ways that were not professional and were affecting staff negatively.
Board Member Arguello responded by saying, “What we allow for is for one school board member to be abusive and scream and yell. That’s an actual fact. Instead of addressing an actual problem on this school board, you’re talking about one school board member who is doing his job.
School board member Robert Bass also expressed his concern over Argüello’s creating and sending of a press release to media outlets in opposition of lobbyist Mike Horner saying, “I’m here for the people, and I’m here for the students, and I’m here for the teachers. and I’m here for these board members. I care about everybody in this room. “There was on district letterhead, and it looked like it was vetted through the district, and it was written in such a way, in 3rd person, to make all of us look bad, and Mr. Argüello, to make yourself look good.”
Mr. Argüello responded by saying, “No sir, I have an opinion. I was elected by a majority in my district. I am serving the county of my district and the county at large, and I have an opinion, and I’m going to make it, and it doesn’t matter how many motions or how many rules you put out here, I will continue to make my opinion known.” “You guys are overstepping because you guys are not doing a great job for the community and of you were I guarantee you it would be me trying to catch up to you and silence you instead of you silencing me.”
Thacker then brought his motions to a vote – seconded by board member Castillo, all of which passed 3-2.
Mr. Argüello made 4 motions during the meeting, all of which failed 2-3.