Members of the School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) bucked tradition Tuesday night by voting Rob Hyatt as the new chair and retaining Tina Certain as vice chair.
During the annual School Board organization meeting run by Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon, Dr. Leanetta McNealy nominated Tina Certain to step into the chair role which has been the custom for SBAC.
But before the vote process started, SBAC member Mildred Russell offered a nomination of Rob Hyatt for the chairperson position as well which was seconded by SBAC member Dr. Gunnar Paulson.
“We’ve always had our vice chair who has been vice chair all year long,” McNealy said. “It’s just known that that would be the person who would be chairman.”
McNealy then asked for public comment which was another deviation from past practice for a reorganization meeting.
Parent Anna Prizzia, who also serves on the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners, spoke in public comment telling the SBAC, “We have a process of having vice chairs because they spend a lot of time with the chair learning and being on top of the issues. It’s a long standing tradition.
“The process leads to continuity in leadership,” she added, and said Certain was the most qualified for the position after putting hard work into the board and being up on all of the issues.
Parent Carolynn Webber also made a similar statement asking the board to follow protocol and saying she supported Certain as becoming the next chair.
McNealy stated her support again for Certain as chair.
Simon then asked for a vote on Certain becoming chair but the vote failed when Paulson, Hyatt and Russell voted against it making it 3 to 2.
Simon then ran the vote for Hyatt to become chair and he won the nomination on a 3 to 2 vote with Certain and McNealy in dissent.
Paulson then nominated Russell for vice chair to which audience members could be heard stating “wow.”
McNealy spoke up and recommended that Certain retain her position as vice chair which Certain herself seconded.
Public comment was opened again and the first to speak was former SBAC member Diyonne McGraw whose seat was vacated by Gov. Ron DeSantis and filled when DeSantis appointed Russell.
McGraw was the first of a dozen commenters to speak against Russell becoming vice chair.
“As someone who’s been involved in this system, I’m looking at the slogan that says we are committed to the success of every child,” McGraw said. “And it’s very disheartening to come here this evening and to hear those who say they are committed to the success of every child.
“There’s a difference between politics and being a public servant. God said you get up and you speak,” she said. “Because what we are witnessing here tonight..everybody in Alachua County I hope that they are paying close attention to what just took place.”
McGraw said the achievement gap in Alachua County is something to be concerned about.
“We have spent the last several months playing about masks, playing about elections, because we are afraid of change,” she said. “And I say to those who vote for this, I hope you sleep well. Because of all of the shootings, the violence that has continued here in Alachua County. Parents need help, families who need help, and we make a decision to play with education. To play with the lives of children, I hope that you sleep well.”
Most of the comments that followed also focused on Russell not having enough experience to become vice chair and recommending that Certain retained the role.
One caller said she was “appalled about what has happened tonight. You’re going to appoint a person who’s been on the job three months?”
Webber came to the podium again and said, “I’m in actual shock. This is a full on coup,” she said. “Miss Russell was appointed by Gov. DeSantis in a county that is 60 percent Democrats and you’re going to make her vice chair of the school board? You think that’s what the citizens want in this county? You’ve lost your minds. Your egos are out of control and you’ve completely lost it.”
An emotional former teacher Jason Stanford urged the board to retain Certain as vice chair.
“You have an accountant on your board and she’s good at finding where the money goes,” he said, noting that the SBAC is about to receive $100 million to spend. “We need good leadership. Everyone taking a breath knows what this is about. We need somebody who understands finances. There’s people on this board who don’t know what they’re doing.”
One caller in favor of a vote for Russell said, “It’s not nice when the shoe is on the other foot. All of us parents who have been ignored for months, we have been begging, pleading with you. Hear us, listen to us, please consider all of us. We have been escorted out by police, we have been silenced.”
Another caller pointed out that Certain has a positive record and is a professional that the SBAC needs saying, “We should value the qualifications that she brings to the table.”
The vote for vice chair was delayed as more comments kept coming in because the regular meeting needed to start on time at 6:30 p.m. for a public hearing.
Simon paused the reorganization meeting and opened a scheduled regular meeting. When it was finished the board convened and finished voting for a vice chair.
With both Russell and Certain nominated, Simon called for a vote on Russell as vice chair to which McNealy, Certain and Hyatt voted no and caused the motion to fail.
The vote for Certain passed 3 to 2 with Paulson and Russell in dissent. Simon congratulated Certain for being elected vice chairperson of the SBAC.