School board vows to “go forward” with business despite controversy over McGraw
June 8, 2021
BY JENNIFER CABRERA
The Alachua County School Board’s meeting today was advertised as a public hearing on “Proposed New and Amended Job Description for Administrative, Professional/Technical (PT), and Education Support Professionals (ESP).” The agenda included a document describing changes to four positions since the job descriptions were first proposed at the May 18 meeting. The meeting was advertised as a “Special Meeting,” implying that votes could be taken on the agenda item. The school district also sent out a special notice last week, stating that the meeting would be held in two parts: a morning session at 11 a.m. and an evening session at 6 p.m., “to allow for additional public input.”
“I would like to request that any votes that we have be delayed.” – Rob Hyatt
During the discussion about adoption of the agenda, Member Rob Hyatt said the board is in “somewhat of an uncharted territory, with the Supervisor of Elections saying that right now we have two representatives in District 4 and none in District 2. I would like to request that any votes that we have be delayed.”
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Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon pointed out that “the school district has not received a formal document associated with the statements from the Supervisor of Elections at this point. So we don’t have any formal reason for that.”
Member McGraw then made a comment that was completely inaudible, thanks to her distance from her microphone and her face mask. Board Chair Leanetta McNealy said that in discussion with the board’s attorney, “we are in agreement, Mr. Hyatt, that we do need to move forward until we get any further information. Nothing has been clear except for what we’ve been seeing in the Gainesville Sun, on TV20, Channel 4, but we do not have anything in writing from anyone.”
The agenda was adopted 4-0 with Member Gunnar Paulson absent.
Attorney Turney stated the purpose of the hearing and that there were changes to four positions, but she did not describe the changes, only stating that the changes have been made available to board members and posted on the website for the public. She then opened the meeting to public comment “specifically on this agenda item.”
McNealy then said that members of the public could only comment on the job changes (“and this will be the same for 6:00”). She asked the public to save any other comments for the general public comment period at the June 15 meeting.
McNealy shut down Dee Basso’s comments about inaccuracies in a social studies textbook with “No, ma’am,” and told her to come back next week.
Carmen Ward, president of the teachers’ union, said it was “confusing” to her that ESSER (federal grant) funds were being used for some recurring positions. “The union needs to have a seat at the table in not frittering away the multi-millions of dollars coming our way, but making sure they’re used to support learning and support the classrooms and support our bus drivers and support everyone in this public school system that has a role… We are ready to be invited to discuss how ESSER funds are going to be spent.” She also said the Emergency Manager position is “a lot of dedication of resource” during non-emergency periods.
Simon then made another modification to the job descriptions: “The concern was actually the Chief of Police position, that the terminology of ‘Police’ presents an image that we are perhaps having more influence of some form of law enforcement, and I think that is actually not the intent; the intent is really to focus on safety and security, and so I would like to withdraw that job description… it would just go back to what it currently is, which is ‘Chief of Safety and School Security.’”
At that point, the public hearing was recessed until 6 p.m., but McNealy opened the floor for board discussion. Simon responded to Ward about the Emergency Manager position, saying that schools are used as emergency shelters during hurricanes and that this position would work with the COVID Task Force, which “is going to be absorbed in… The feedback I received is that the County is very pleased that we had an individual dedicated to this position.”
Hyatt said he had met with Simon after the board’s workshop last Wednesday and that he thought it was “very clear” that a lot of these new jobs are 2-year positions because “that’s how long we have the money.” He said he wanted it made clear in the job descriptions that they are 2-year positions and asked, “Are we planning for 2 years down the road, when we might have to lose some employees?”
Simon said, “Soft money has been in existence for quite a considerable amount of time, so having positions that are funded through soft money is not new… We have looked at positions that we will need in order to do these efforts, and over time, things are gonna change… we will have retirements in the future, as well as other individuals who choose to leave the district for other reasons… it’s a 2-year focus to make sure that we have the right hands associated with the work that needs to be done in order to make sure that this $90 million is watched in a responsible way…”
McGraw made comments that were again unintelligible due to microphone issues, but she seemed to say that the Chief of Police position was one of her concerns, so she didn’t have any further questions.
“This is not about where our colleague lives; it’s about overturning the election results. This is straight out of the Trump playbook: their candidate didn’t win, and now they’re trying to unseat Ms. McGraw, who was elected county-wide by a majority of the citizens of Alachua County” – Member Tina Certain
Member Tina Certain said she wanted to “circle back to something that was said earlier… I felt what came up earlier in the meeting today was unnecessary because in this meeting, it being a special meeting, there was no voting to take place in this meeting… in the past we’ve all, despite our differences… we’ve all tried to be collegial, but it seems something has really gone off the rails here lately, and people are attacking a fellow board member, and even one of our own is seeming to be taking a jab at her, when we don’t have all the facts on that. There’s a small vocal group making unsubstantiated accusations without having all the facts. This is not about where our colleague lives; it’s about overturning the election results. This is straight out of the Trump playbook: their candidate didn’t win, and now they’re trying to unseat Ms. McGraw, who was elected county-wide by a majority of the citizens of Alachua County… I feel really just some kind of way about how our colleague was smeared just a few minutes ago, when we have nothing official from the governor’s office, from the Secretary of State, we don’t even have anything from our local Supervisor of Elections… So it’s very disturbing.”
“The question to ask is, is Mr. Hyatt aligning himself with the men of the likes of Ward Scott, Perry, Clemons, Tim Marden, who are trying to actively destroy public education?” – Member Tina Certain
Certain continued, “I was further disturbed because I received an email, which we all received, from a citizen, but another citizen then gave to me Mr. Hyatt’s response to her, from his board email account… what is really concerning is that it seems that one of our own is joining forces with those who are trying to destroy public education. He was delighted to encourage that she send this email to the Education Commissioner, to Senator Keith Perry, to Chuck Clemons, and it just seems that you’re undermining one of our own without having all the facts, without seeing anything in writing, that’s official, that states she does not live in the district… I don’t think this is about where Member McGraw lives. This is about a group of people in this county who are disgruntled because they didn’t win seats in the 2020 election, and now they want to overturn the election and the will of the people. It’s not about where Ms. McGraw lives; really what it’s about is the failure of what past boards didn’t do and what past district staff didn’t do with those boards. Let’s place it there if we want to start pointing fingers, but I think it’s unfair to start out this meeting and say she shouldn’t vote when we don’t have anything official… that’s not our place to remove her and tell her she can’t function… The question to ask is, is Mr. Hyatt aligning himself with the men of the likes of Ward Scott, Perry, Clemons, Tim Marden, who are trying to actively destroy public education?”
Certain started reading the printed screenshot she was waving of the email from Hyatt, and McNealy interrupted her, saying, “I think you’ve made your point quite clear.” She said she was going to allow Hyatt to respond and then she would close the meeting and that she would like the school board to let the Sun know that they would have a Special Meeting. “I, too, am going along with many of the things you said, but inasmuch as this is a public meeting, I’m going to stop you right there, let him have his say, and then we will continue deliberating, but we will notice it, and we will go from there.”
Certain’s statement can be viewed here:
“The board should not be making major decisions when we have a situation that has divided this district.” – Member Rob Hyatt
Hyatt responded, “Madam Chair, if I may, since I was attacked… For Ms. Certain to accuse anyone else of being non-collegial, with her Facebook presence over the last several years, is a little rich. But I will say that this is a very simple question, and if you notice, we’re dealing with obfuscation rather than the only question at hand. The only question at hand is ‘are state laws being violated?’ For me to be lined up with all the other right-wing folks that you named is a little bit silly and actually just not looking at what the question is. And I do want to say this about Supervisor of Elections: We’re not going to hear from them because just like the school board, they have no investigative power… And also, to make a correction, I did not say that Ms. McGraw should not vote. I said the board should not vote. The board should not be making major decisions when we have a situation that has divided this district. For me to be attacked when I’m talking specifically, I think the state statute’s clear… I do not know what the correct remedy is… When I write an email, it is public record… if we’re going to play that little game, then I can certainly pull out a bunch of screenshots that have been sent to me over the last few years… This was not caused by me, this was not caused by anyone else, other than the parties involved… We all swore to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the United States and the State of Florida.”
“We have too many priorities, responsibilities, challenges, facing this board, and until we get to the end of whatever this discussion is leading us to, we are going to vote” – Board Chair Leanetta McNealy
McNealy said she was “distraught and disappointed, and some of the things you stated, Mr. Hyatt, are true, and many of the things Mrs. Certain has stated is true. But as far as holding up the vote, whether you said Mrs. McGraw or the board, as Chairman, I’m not in agreement with that. We have too many priorities, responsibilities, challenges, facing this board, and until we get to the end of whatever this discussion is leading us to, we are going to vote… there was no vote scheduled for today, but come Tuesday, when there will be business to contend with in this district, we will be voting, and I’m hoping that all five of us will be here to vote. And I hope that after our statements today, nothing else will be stated about anyone… Both of you had that opportunity, but it’s done.”
“The additional complication is, in 2001 we had 53 precincts, not 71” – Superintendent Carlee Simon
Dr. Simon said the district has been doing “internal discovery” about past redistricting. She said that generally after a census, government entities determine whether the precincts need to be changed, and that goes into a resolution. Then the school board votes on the resolution to approve the new districts for the board members. The last recorded resolution for redistricting was August 21, 2001. “What ends up being extra complicated about this situation is that the resolution from 2001 is the last recorded resolution… it turns out that in 2011… you can only do this in odd years, so in 2011, there was a discussion with the Supervisor of Elections… it turns out that there was a delay in getting the information from the Supervisor of Elections to look at the population numbers, so… essentially what happened is it became 2012, the window closed. The window would have opened again in 2013, but it appears as though there wasn’t a decision to do the redistricting… The additional complication is, in 2001 we had 53 precincts, not 71… On top of this complication, we do have a series of maps… but the maps seem to have changed. Right now, we are in discussions with the FADDS organization; I know that they’re right now reaching out to the governor because there are components that are complicating this situation a bit more, so I’d say at this point, we really don’t know what the whole full scope of this situation is, to have any form of an assessment, at least on our end.”
McNealy said, “I do stand, as Chairperson of this board, to say that until something comes to us in writing, we will not hold up the business at hand, but we will go forward with our June 15 board meeting, which there’s a lot of business on the agenda, and we will not stop with our voting process because of anything that has not been clear as of yet.”
“We’re now up to 71 precincts, that being a lot of the precincts that all 5 districts cover did not exist back in 2001” – Member Diyonne McGraw
McGraw said, “As the person who is in this situation: I was elected… everybody had an opportunity to vote for me in Alachua County. As she said, it is very complicated because me being in this situation, has discovered that this board never considered the 2010 census data… Looking at what I have from former attorney Jim Scaggs in 2001, your boundaries and things have to be redrawn every 10 years, once you receive the census data. That never took place, and as she said, we’re now up to 71 precincts, that being a lot of the precincts that all 5 districts cover did not exist back in 2001. And so to correct that, the school board in odd years has to look at the districts and make sure that they are covered how they are required to be covered. So at this time, I cannot say much more… but that is where we are in a complex situation, because when you talk about following the law, we did not follow the law that requires you to redraw your districts after you receive the census data… I will continue to serve all of the children here in Alachua County… This is about change.”
“We all may need to step down… we are all suspect, as far as our districts. I see Attorney Turney’s head nodding with me, and that makes me a little nervous.” – Board Chair Leanetta McNealy
McNealy added, “If we have not [redistricted] since 2001, that would mean that Dr. Paulson, Mrs. Certain, myself, Mr. Hyatt, we are all with the problem. We all may need to step down… we are all suspect, as far as our districts. I see Attorney Turney’s head nodding with me, and that makes me a little nervous.”
Hyatt said he hoped that a future redistricting would align school board districts with county commission districts. McGraw proposed having a special meeting to discuss new districts based on the 2020 census, and Simon said they wouldn’t have the census data until around October.
The meeting was recessed until 6 p.m., when the public hearing will resume.
“The School Board has not requested anything from our office.” – TJ Pyche, Director of Communications for the Supervisor of Elections
In response to a question from Alachua Chronicle about whether the Supervisor of Elections had provided any official information to the school board, Director of Communications TJ Pyche sent the following statement: “The School Board has not requested anything from our office. After watching the comments at the board meeting, the Supervisor of Elections reached out to the superintendent’s office to see what the School Board needs from our office. We are waiting to hear back. Our office continues to provide information regarding the candidate’s residency through public records requests, online information, and an official statement that was sent to media on June 3. All legal matters with respect to our office and this situation are handled by the Alachua County Attorney’s Office.”
We also asked about Dr. Simon’s statement that there were 53 precincts prior to the 2011 redistricting, and Pyche replied, “Prior to 2011 redistricting, there were 71 precincts. It was reduced to 63.” McGraw’s assertion that there are now 71 precincts is also incorrect, according to that statement.