Wednesday, May 15, 2024

The Curious Case of a Dental School—and the FAU Search

What could Florida Atlantic University’s coming dental school have to do with the search for FAU’s president?

Perhaps a lot.

With the Board of Governors announcing last week an investigation into the search, those in the FAU community are wondering who might have complained enough—and had enough political clout—to halt the process just when it seemed to be working. The State University System, through Chancellor Ray Rodrigues, raised its objections just two days after the search committee announced its three finalists.

All have extensive backgrounds in higher education. The list, however, did not include State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay. Fine has no higher education background except for being a student—he is a former casino executive—but Gov. DeSantis had touted him as a candidate. Fine has introduced some of the legislation DeSantis cites as he campaigns for president.

If DeSantis intends to intervene on Fine’s behalf, the connection could run through Barbara Feingold, vice-chairman of the Board of Trustees and a member of the search committee.

Feingold was married to Jeffrey Feingold, a dentist who started a chain of clinics and then founded Managed Care of North America. It provides dental care to low-income people, largely financed through Medicaid.

In 2010, then-Gov. Rick Scott named Jeffrey Feingold to FAU’s Board of Trustees. Feingold had been a major donor to Republicans. In 2018, he bucked the state GOP establishment and supported DeSantis for governor against Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

After Jeffrey Feingold died in 2021, DeSantis gave the eulogy. He named Barbara Feingold to the FAU board.

One year later, FAU presented to the Board of Governors its proposal for a dental school. It seemed a curious request for a university in this area. While the proposal showed that Florida lacks dentists in certain regions, South Florida is not among those with the most acute shortages. Florida A&M University and the University of Central Florida seemed better positioned among public universities to supply dentists.

But the Board of Governors, most of whom DeSantis has appointed, approved FAU’s plan, creating only the second public dental school in Florida. This year, the Legislature approved $30 million toward construction of the $85 million building and $10 million toward operating expenses. FAU predicts 300 students by the fifth year of operation, at an annual cost of $37 million.

News reports also referenced a $30 million private gift to the school, presumably toward its construction. Though the donor was not identified, a rendering of the dental school that appeared in FAU’s student newspaper labels it “The Jeffrey P. Feingold College of Dentistry.”

Where does Fine come in? He sits on the House Appropriations Committee, which had to approve that $40 million for the dental school. In October 2022, Barbara Feingold gave $10,000 to Fine’s political action committee. Term-limited in the House, Fine is running for the Florida Senate. Feingold also gave $1,000 to Appropriations Chairman Tom Leek.

I asked FAU’s media relations staff if they could provide Feingold’s contact information or set up an interview. I did not hear back by deadline for this post.

Recent history shows that DeSantis is willing to kill a search after it produced finalists and strongarm his own choice. He did it with South Florida State College two months ago.

Fine is under investigation by the Commission on Ethics for misusing his office. In 2019, he suggested shutting down UCF—which has 66,000 students—for five or 10 years because of his complaints over construction spending.

Yet DeSantis called Fine “a good choice” for FAU. And on June 14, Fine billed his campaign $73.72 for a meal at Flakowitz Bagel, on Federal Highway just east of FAU. The search committee met the same day.

Burke extension?                                                

Mike Burke

Before the Palm Beach County School Board at Wednesday’s meeting is a proposal to extend Superintendent Mike Burke’s contract for five years.

Burke is in the state’s mandatory retirement system and could leave in 2025. New rules, however, allow him to stay until June 30, 2028. Chairman Frank Barbieri is seeking the extension. Burke took over in 2021 and has drawn praise from teachers and business leaders. Burke served as the district’s chief financial officer before getting the top job.

Under the deal, Burke would make $340,000 in salary and receive a $1,200 monthly car allowance, among other benefits. His salary could increase annually, based on performance and board evaluations that would have to take place no later than Sept. 21 each year.

The board also will consider the evaluation form. The draft proposal covers five categories: Academic Excellence & Growth, Student-Focused Culture, Mental Health & Wellness, Committed and Impactful Employees and Board and Community Relations. Top score in each would be 5.

Banning the Bible?                                            

It’s a rare school board meeting that doesn’t feature something from Florida’s education culture wars. Wednesday’s meeting is no exception.

Rabbi Barry Silver will be there to appeal the rejection of his attempt to ban the Bible from Olympic Heights High School. During his time in the Florida House and after, Silver regularly has been a civic provocateur. In this case, Silver is striking back at what he considers hypocrisy behind the movement to ban books in public schools based on sexual content and violence.

Indeed, Silver cites the “Parental Rights in Education” Act to make his case. “The Bible,” he writes, “contains graphic accounts of misogyny, rape, incest, bestiality, gender identification, genital mutilation, infanticide, child abuse where children’s heads are dashed against rocks, genocide, sex trafficking. . .and the stoning of homosexuals, disrespectful children and women who are not virgins upon marriage.” Such material, he said, could make students “uncomfortable,” referring to language in the law.

Silver, who leads the L’Dor Va Dor congregation in Boynton Beach, added that the Bible “has caused centuries of anti-Semitism, culminating in The Holocaust.” But his appeal is not an anti-Bible screed. “Read rationally,” he writes, the Bible “to transform lives and create a better world.”

Elsewhere, Silver is challenging Florida’s restrictive anti-abortion law on the grounds that it violates the freedom of religious groups that support the procedure. Barbieri sent me emails he has received in support of Silver’s position on the Bible and against it. I’ll have more after the meeting.

Weinroth raising funds for school board race                                         

Robert Weinroth

Speaking of the school board, former County Commissioner Robert Weinroth has raised $19,000 for his campaign to succeed Barbieri in the district that includes Boca Raton and West Boca.

Weinroth lost his reelection bid last year to Marcie Woodward. He ran as a Democrat, but Weinroth since has become a Republican. School board races are non-partisan.

Many of Weinroth’s donors are those who usually contribute to county commission races, such as people in the development business. At this point, the other two candidates are Mike Letsky and Suzanne Page. She lost to Barbieri in 2020. Barbieri declined to run for a new term.

Early Delray campaign chest numbers                                         

delray

Speaking of campaigns, Delray Beach City Commissioner Ryan Boylston raised roughly $24,500 in the first reporting period after announcing his campaign for mayor.

Boylston received $4,000 from members of the Walsh family that owns Delray Beach-based Ocean Properties. He also got money from ex-mayors Carey Glickstein and Jeff Perlman.

Boylston’s opponent is Shirley Johnson, who left the commission this year because of term limits. Her first report shows a $20,000 personal loan. Johnson also got two checks of $1,000 each.

Interestingly, Johnson already has spent most of her money—on consultants. The election is eight months away. Boylston has spent about $340.

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Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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