DeSantis declares McGraw’s SBAC seat vacant

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

At 5:11 p.m. Thursday afternoon Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order removing Diyonne McGraw from the School Board of Alachua County for not living in the district she was elected to serve. 

“I, Ron DeSantis, Governor of Florida, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the State of Florida, declare that due to Diyonne McGraw’s failure to maintain residence required of her by law a vacancy exists on the Alachua County School Board, District 2, which I shall fill in compliance with the law,” the order said. 

The order noted that during Monday’s circuit court hearing McGraw “did not present any evidence to contest the allegations against her regarding her residency” in District 4. It also cited Judge Donna Keim’s determination that the plaintiffs in the case were likely to win on the merits. 

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“I want to thank the governor for acting expeditiously,” said Khanh-Lien Banko, McGraw’s 2020 opponent, whose attorney took the matter to the governor earlier this week. 

Khanh-Lien Banko

At a press conference following the decision, Marlon Bruce, another plaintiff in the case, thanked the governor for upholding the law. 

“This was never a matter of left vs. right, but right vs. wrong,” Bruce said. “I’m thankful we have this resolution.”

Jeff Childers, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said the governor’s office did not indicate how long the school board seat would remain vacant. 

“The school board is going to struggle with a 2-2 configuration, and I think the governor is aware of that,” Childers said.

Richard Alan II, McGraw’s attorney, did not respond to a request for comment about the decision. 

The vacancy comes at a critical time for the school board, which has overseen a controversial superintendent transition over the last six months. Many of its most contentious votes, including one to raise Superintendent Carlee Simon’s salary to $175,000 in March, have split the board 3-2, with McGraw, Leanetta McNealy and Tina Certain forming a narrow majority. Tensions between members have boiled to the surface in public meetings. 

Simon has undertaken a district reorganization plan that has met with public resistance and a “no confidence” petition with more than 1,300 signatures. 

Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe, who is also a Newberry High School history teacher, is among the critics. In a phone interview Thursday evening, he said all of those 3-2 school board votes should be revisited, particularly the one to make Simon’s interim appointment permanent.

Amid the McGraw uncertainty, Marlowe called an emergency meeting of the Newberry City Commission for Thursday night to discuss what action it should take to protect Newberry’s interests.

Jordan Marlowe

“Our concern has always been the school board superintendent’s decision to reallocate the half-cent funds that were promised to Newberry,” Marlow said. “That is very much still on the table, and we all still need to be aware of that desire by at least two of the school board members and the superintendent to not adhere to that project list.”

In the wake of Thursday’s executive order, Marlowe canceled the emergency meeting shortly before it was set to begin.

“In one way we have more clarity, but now we have to work through other uncertainties,” Marlowe said. “The City of Newberry’s stance is to sit back and allow the school board to work out these issues.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated. 

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