Barbieri Speaks on School Board Equity Language, Delray Updates & More

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Last week, by a vote of 4-3, the Palm Beach County School Board removed a controversial portion of the board’s mission statement regarding equity in education.

On May 5, the board approved language that the county is “committed to dismantling structures rooted in white advantage.” Those last two words caused some critics to accuse the board of promoting critical race theory, which Republicans in the Legislature consider anti-American. This local issue is part of a national debate on race.

As with the “debates” on wearing masks, some speakers accused board members of being Nazis and communists. Board members Marcia Andrews, Frank Barbieri, Karen Brill and Barbara McQuinn voted to remove the language, saying that the controversy was distracting from the work of ensuring opportunities for all children. Alexandria Ayala, Debra Robinson and Erica Whitfield voted to retain the language.

Robinson and Whitfield represent Delray Beach. Barbieri, who as chairman ran the raucous meeting, represents Boca Raton and West Boca. Before the vote, he sent me the statement he read at the meeting. He asked that I run it in full. I believe that it’s worth reading.

“While I speak for myself right now, I believe that the entire board acknowledges that inequities in our school system exist.

“Since it is a core passion of mine to remove the barriers that many children face, I believed the idea of an equity statement was to get the entire school district behind this critical work. The intent in approving an equity statement should be about bringing forth unity, not the division and polarization that was the unintended consequence of our current statement due to the way it was written and the words chosen by the board.

 “When the issue of ‘white advantage’ was first raised, I had serious concerns about adding those words to a statement that otherwise recognized challenges of all children irrespective of race. I was, however, concerned that any comments of mine not completely supportive of this particular verbiage being incorporated into our equity statement would have made me seem insensitive to the concerns of some of my board colleagues and would have been interpreted by the public as a racist act on my part. 

“And so I kept silent. Obviously, my silence has been misinterpreted. Perhaps I should have spoken.

“We live in challenging times, with more focus on what divides us than what unites us. For those and any missteps, I accept responsibility. But it appears that those serious concerns I had have been realized. This issue is becoming ‘the issue.’

“I have spent my entire career trying to unite the community and bring about equity by making sure every student has equal access and opportunity to the best education possible. Poverty, race, color or creed should never inhibit any student from receiving a first-rate education. I believe my past record speaks for itself. 

“Equity to me is removing barriers standing in the path of a child’s success and distributing—not redistributing, which connotes taking from one child to give to another—district resources—whether they be staff, programs or funding—to ensure every child, no matter their race, ethnicity, poverty, disability, language status, citizenship status, religious affiliation, gender identity or sexual orientation has what he or she needs to receive the education that all children deserve, an education which allows them to achieve their own personal highest potential.

“Over the last few weeks, we have been inundated with responses to our new statements on mission, vision and values. Clearly, our discussions on equity have struck a chord and a nerve. Clearly, these are difficult conversations.

“We are tasked with educating our children. Anything that inhibits us from that task is ‘mission creep.’ If there is more discussion about these issues than the reading scores, math scores and graduation rates of our children, the process has failed us.

“Yes, the issues of race and equity are profound—deeply impacting our community—but our job first and foremost is to create a safe, healthy space where we can teach the next generation to read, write, add and ultimately be prepared to enter college or the workforce with the knowledge and skill set they need to succeed. I fear that this important and necessary conversation is becoming a distraction from our fundamental task.

“I therefore am posing the question: ‘Can and should we start again and focus our efforts on the essential tasks of education, while remaining open to education leading the way for these conversations to occur?’

“Yes, we can and should have these conversations. But they are not simple issues to be resolved in one, two or even 10 school board workshops. A generation needs to be intellectually challenged, reflect, think and develop. We as a school district can and must create an environment which encourages and supports that long process of communal reflection, while still focusing our immediate efforts on the critical tasks of educating our children to prepare them for college and the workforce. 

“Personally, I’d like to see us start the process again, focusing on the critical test scores and developing goals and strategies to address the shortfalls, close the achievement gaps, and, above all, recruit, reward and retain the most innovative, successful and dedicated teachers. I think that as a board, we felt the pressure to address equity as a precursor to the task of creating our strategic plan and moved too quickly.

“I would rather we take our time and get it ‘right,’ rather than rush a strategic plan through just to meet a self-imposed deadline. No one is a greater advocate for equity of opportunity than I am. This is my motivation for giving this issue the time and attention it deserves.”

Final CRA decision in Delray

Delray Beach city commissioners will decide today whether to make themselves the only members of the community redevelopment agency board.

When commissioners in April 2018 abolished the seven-member appointed board and installed themselves, they retained two appointed members. The appointments rotate among the commissioners.

The rationale was that the appointees would provide outside input from the community. All three appointees since the change—former City Commissioner Angie Gray and Kelcie Brooks are the current members—have been minorities. Even though the CRA comprises 20 percent of the city, the intent three years ago was to have the agency focus more on the minority-heavy, less-affluent northwest/southwest neighborhoods .

Commissioners who had complained about the CRA’s inaction now could make the decisions themselves. Though the work of the CRA and the city itself often overlap, the commission retained a separate CRA director. It was Jeff Costello in 2018. Now it’s Renee Jadusingh.

Two weeks ago, Commissioner Ryan Boylston raised the idea of a five-member, commission-only CRA board. That’s how Boca Raton does it. Adam Frankel and Shirley Johnson agreed, which is why the resolution is on today’s agenda. Mayor Shelly Petrolia and Commissioner Juli Casale dissented.

Petrolia’s dissent was typically emphatic, and she quickly began a social media campaign against the change, helped by her political ally, Chris Davey. At one point, Petrolia posted a photo of Boylston wearing lederhosen at what appeared to be an Oktoberfest party. To anyone but the mayor, the photo was unrelated to the CRA issue.

“There’s nothing like the pot calling the kettle black,” Petrolia wrote with the picture. “Germany, perhaps?” Yes, it was odd and mildly defamatory, but that’s Petrolia.

Boylston’s main argument is that the commission has far more sources of community input than the two appointees. He also has stated that the CRA includes many areas of the city that have needs and should not be overlooked.

Hard feelings remain among the former board members from 2018. They still want a completely independent board, but City Attorney Lynn Gelin has told the commission that the change three years ago is irrevocable.

With Delray Beach having returned to in-person meetings, I would expect a large turnout today. Boylston and Frankel appear unlikely to change their positions. The same goes for Petrolia and Casale. So Johnson, as is usually the case on big issues, probably will be the swing vote.

Four people remain under consideration to be Delray Beach’s permanent city manager.

Based on conversations with city commissioners, the human resources department chose the names from among the 100-plus applicants. A city spokeswoman said interviews of the finalists “most likely” would take place next Tuesday.

The candidates are:

Michael Bornstein

He was city manager in Lake Worth Beach for nine years before resigning in early April. His announcement came after the March elections ousted the longtime commission majority and the challengers stated that they wanted to review Bornstein’s performance.

Before going to Lake Worth Beach, Bornstein spent 12 years as town manager in Lantana. He worked there previously as director of building services. When Bornstein left, one council member called him “the best thing that happened to this town.” Among other things, Bornstein led the effort to save Lantana’s post office from closing.

Terrence Moore

He was the manager in College Park, Ga., for seven years before leaving in December. I could not find a news report that explained his departure.

College Park, just south of Atlanta, has about 15,000 people. Its Gateway Center Arena is home to a Women’s National Basketball Association team and the G League team of the NBA Atlanta Hawks.

Last year, Moore was second choice among 57 applicants to be city manager in Daytona Beach. He served previously as city manager in Morgantown, W.V., and Las Cruces, N.M. Early in his career, Moore was an assistant city manager in Deerfield Beach. He recently applied for manager jobs in Lakeland and Myrtle Beach, S.C.

During his time in Las Cruces, according to news reports compiled by the firm that worked on the Lakeland search, Moore was investigated regarding injuries suffered by his ex-wife. No charges were filed. After complaints, Moore also repaid the city for the cost of two business trips. Moore later said he had been the victim of a “witch hunt” in Las Cruces.

Joseph Napoli

He was one of three finalists for the Delray Beach job in 2019, when Napoli was deputy city manager in Miami. He was Johnson’s first choice.

In February, 2020, after withdrawing from consideration to be the manager in Manatee County, south of Tampa, Napoli became the manager in Cooper City. It’s in southwest Broward County and has a population of about 35,000.

Leonard Sossamon

He spent seven years as administrator of Hernando County, north of Tampa, before being fired by August 2019. Sossamon came to Florida after two decades in management positions in the Carolinas.

The vote to fire Sossamon was 3-2. Those in the majority accused Sossamon of hiring a bad budget manager and of fiscal mismanagement that resulted in budget shortfalls. Those who opposed the firing said Sossamon had proposed cutting services to balance the budget but commissioners had overruled him. Roughly a year later, Sossamon was hired as the interim manager in the nearby small town of Port Richey.

Boca car crash echoes

Reading about the car crash early Sunday morning just west of Boca Raton that killed five people, I thought of a similar tragedy 25 years ago.

In February 1996, 19-year-old Nicholas Copertino lost control of his Honda Civic on West Palmetto Park Road. Five of the seven teenagers in the back seat were killed. One of them was Dori Slosberg. Her father, Irv Slosberg, became a state legislator whose priority was traffic safety. Emily Slosberg, Dori’s sister, represents her father’s old House district.

This time, an 18-year-old—Ramiro Gomez, of Deerfield Beach—was driving a car with six children in the back seat. Like Copertino, Gomez was speeding, investigators said. Going east, he lost control on Camino Real near Sugar Sand Park. His car crossed over the median into the westbound lane and landed on the top of another vehicle.

Five people are dead, including the couple in the other car—their names have not been released—and Gomez. Two 13-year-olds from Boca Raton—Sebastian Rivas and Brielle Snowden—also died. Five of those passengers in the back seat were injured, some of them seriously. All of the injured, according to news reports, are from Boca Raton and Delray Beach. All six passengers were thrown from the back seat.

Though the incident happened just outside the city limits, it will bring more complaints about late-night racing in Boca Raton. And as before, grieving parents will wonder why their children were in that car at that time.