Tuesday’s Osceola County School District board meeting began by celebrating FFA students, enjoying a performance from three young musicians, recognizing eight new elementary teachers as part of a partnership between the Osceola School District and Valencia College, and Tohopekaliga High School‘s Navy JROTC program that recognized a member who saved a man’s life that was in a terrible motorcycle crash. Sadly, the meeting ended in heated conflict.

After the school board made its way through the majority of the meeting discussing issues like teacher and substitute teacher shortages, as well as the continued shortage of bus drivers, it moved on to the topic of including a time of prayer at the beginning of board meetings. According to the school district’s attorney, the board has the authority to make that happen. Mr. Arguello asked to have churches that may be involved in leading those prayer times to be from Osceola County.

Attorney Kruppenbacher then reported to the board about an external investigation that had been conducted after having received a complaint about school board member John Arguello, who allegedly intimidated a district vendor who refused to support his sister’s campaign. Arguello’s sister, Jennifer Arguello, is running for the seat currently held by School Board Chairwoman Terry Castillo.

An independent attorney from Gainesville, Mr. David DeLaney with the Dell Graham Law Firm. was hired by the district to investigate the complaint and found that there was reasonable cause that Mr. Arguello had violated school board rules by engaging in intimidating and hostile acts against the vendor, Mike Horner, a school district lobbyist in Tallahassee. In August Arguello suggested the canceling of a Legislative lobbying contract with former state Rep. Mike Horner for allegedly not being properly registered as a Tallahassee lobbyist for the school district.

School Board member Clarence Thacker commented saying, “This all happened after the vendor was asked by Mr. Arguello to contribute to his sister’s campaign. Mr. Arguello’s sister is running for a seat on this school board. The vendor declined to financially support Mr. Arguello’s sister. Mr. Arguello then used his position on the school board to harass and intimidate the vendor including contacting the vendor’s other clients and tried to persuade them to drop the vendor from representing them. I have had many school district personnel, business partners, and vendors come to me with stories of a similar nature. I have witnessed the intimidation of school district employees at our meetings. I know there is fear of coming forward and getting on Mr. Arguello’s bad side for fear of retribution. I want to be very clear that I consider this a very serious offense. This is not the way that I believe we should act as a board or individual board members.”

School Board member Julius Melendez also commented, “We have to pretend that this isn’t a school board member. Let’s pretend that it’s a teacher, or is Dr. Pace, or it’s any other employee in the district, and I believe that we should look at this matter at the same level of scrutiny that we would do any employee. No school board member should be above the law, and no school board member should be treated any differently than any other employee that’s here.”

School Board member Arguello responded to the board discussion, “ I would say that this is a work of fiction to the greatest degree. Number one, I never asked Mr. Horner’s clients to fire him or anything of the nature. I did ask Mr. Horner for a contribution, just like everyone here has asked Mr. Horner for a contribution. The difference is, Mr. Horner knew two things about me. Number one… no matter how much money he contributed to any campaigns of any candidates I would support that it meant nothing to me and that I would never provide Mr. Horner with a guaranteed answer like he gets from potentially other school board members.”

Arguello went on to say, “Mr. Horner if you’re watching or you’re listening, write me a contribution tonight and I will still ask for your contract to be terminated because no one who represents what Mr. Horner represents in my opinion deserves to be a member of a community that’s serving their students.” Mr Arguello also said, “ I believe that anyone who has taken a contribution from Mr. Horner should abstain from voting on this issue.” 

Mr. Thacker made a motion to send the attorney’s findings in a letter signed by Chairwoman Terry Castillo. to Governor DeSantis. The motion was seconded by Robert Bass. The motion passed 4-0 with Mr. Arguello abstaining. The letter is to be sent to Governor Ron DeSantis by February 8th, 2022. The Governor will then decide what action to take.

The entire meeting can be viewed on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbUtkHhqFxA.