By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter
There will be run-off elections on Aug. 21 for two Dade County Board of Education seats. Incumbent Ronnie Moore will face Johnny Warren for the District 3 slot, while Careyee Bell challenges incumbent David Powell for District 5, the at-large position. All candidates are Republicans.
At the American Legion’s Aug. 7 debates, the two contenders for each seat squared off separately, but all four candidates were asked much the same questions, so the Sentinel will treat them here together.
Nepotism was the hot topic of the night, a subject that does sometimes rear its head in tiny, rural Dade, where practically everybody is related to practically everybody else, to the point that county offices and even the school system sometimes look like family reunions.
All the debaters, including Johnny Warren, the candidate, got to weigh in on whether Bradley Warren, the football coach – his son – made too much money at $87,000-plus; whether it was right that Superin-tendent Shawn Tobin’s wife, a parapro-fessional new to the system, should have kept her job in the recent round of layoffs while a parapro of over 20 years’ experience lost hers; and even whether it was proper for Mrs. Tobin to rely on the county school bus for transportation to work each morning.
Warren Sr. was clearly prepared for the question about his son’s salary. He answered that in the 17 schools in the area, his son’s lowest-paid counterpart made $64,360, the highest-paid $144,000. “Our football coach and athletic director is right exactly in the middle of the pack,” he said.
Careyee Bell, in her District 5 debate with David Powell, answered, “It doesn’t appear that he’s that far out of line,” and Powell himself said that football was important and extracurricular activities kept kids out of trouble. “The pill that’s hard to swallow is the $27,000 is all local money,” he said, referring to the supplements that boost the coach’s state-paid salary above those of peers. Powell said those numbers were something the board might have to look at eventually but: “I don’t see it as an issue.”
The only candidate who did see it as an issue was Warren’s rival for District 3, Ronnie Page. “I’m not much of a speaker,” Page said at one point, and many of his answers, often of the yes, no, or that’s-not-my-job variety, bore him out on that. But he had plenty to say about the Warren question:
“Ever since I’ve served on the board it’s been cut, cut, cut,” said Page. And it was right and proper, he said, to cut wasteful expenses before the board asked taxpayers for more money. So why did these excessive salaries remain? “I think you need to go everywhere and we haven’t touched this,” he said.
During his closing statement, Page went a bit further: “My opponent is the father of the highest-paid football coach in this area,” he said. “I don’t feel that he will take any steps to curb this excessive salary paid to his son or others.”
In response, Warren reiterated that his son was nowhere near the highest paid coach in the area, and he retorted to the nepotism charge that he was certified by the election board and county attorney as fit to run, tossing in: “I’m no more illegal than Mr. Page with his sister and two nephews working there.”
Page, on the audience questions referring to Superintendent Tobin’s wife, reverted to his man-of-few-words persona, answering that no, he didn’t know she rode the school bus, and as for keeping her on payroll while firing a parapro nearing retirement: “We were recommended by our school board attorney on how to do this.”
Warren replied to the layoff question, “I think it puts a black mark on the system,” and as for school buses, he thought he thought board members should all take a ride on them once in a while to look out for bullying.
District 5 incumbent David Powell, addressing the parapro layoff question, answered, “When we cut those positions, it was cutting positions, not people.” He launched into a Tobin-like discussion of different funding sources – “That’s a completely different pot of money” – culminating in the assertion that the board could eliminate an assistant superintendent’s job without improving the system’s bottom line.
The other big issue that emerged from audience questions was a public curiosity about who’s calling the shots in the school system these days. Questions were along the lines of: Are you willing to remind the superintendent he’s a hired employee? To what extent is he subordinate to the school board? How often does the school board defer to attorneys? How many times have you voted against the superintendent?
Of the incumbents, Page said, “Yes, sir, he works for the school board,” but his other answers on the subject were to the effect that it wasn’t a board member’s place to interfere with school business. “It’s the superintendent’s job to run the school system,” he said. As to when to defer to attorneys: “That would have to be referred to the superintendent.”
But when Powell was asked if he’d remind Tobin he was an employee, he replied, “I reminded him this morning.” Otherwise he was more placatory, saying the superintendent took heat from the public that ought more properly to come to board members. When asked how often he’d voted against the superintendent, he said, “It’s not voting against somebody, it’s voting your conscience.” He said there had only been four divided votes in his two years on the board.
Powell’s was the only dissenting voice in the board’s controversial decision in July to zero out funding for the public library. He also fielded a question about a $5,000 donation to the library made by his father-in-law during the controversy and before the July 31 primary. Powell said his father-in-law was a generous man who had been impressed with the library and sympathetic to its plight, and in any case had not meant to go public: It was library administration that leaked the information.
Of the challengers, Careyee Bell said she wouldn’t mind reminding the Super who’s boss, and she said at another point: “Sometimes I think people don’t talk to school board members because they’re afraid for their jobs. It shouldn’t be that way.”
Warren also seemed inclined to take a more active hand in the system: “I’m very displeased with some things that have taken place,” he said, and: “We work with the citizens of Dade County. I think that needs to be kept in mind.”
The July 31 numbers for District 3 were: Warren, 1,218; Page, 1,037; with third candidate Julie Williams eliminated at 848 votes. For District 5 it was Powell, 1,288; Bell, 1,046; and eliminated candidates Dallas Walker and Joseph Chambers 410 and 285 respectively.