Three candidates vie for School Board District 4 seat, forum set for Aug. 3

Education By Alexandra Herrera, Reporter Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Three candidates are seeking to replace Perla Tabares Hantman, who represents District 4 on the Miami-Dade County School Board.
Tabares Hantman was elected chair of the board 14 times and announced in April that she will not seek reelection.

Below are the answers from the candidates -- Roberto J. Alonso, Maribel Balbin and Kevin Menendez Macki -- to questions from The Miami Laker.

You can meet the candidates Aug. 3 from 7 p.m. – 8 p.m. during a School Board Candidate Forum at Miami Lakes Town Hall, 6601 Main St. It will be moderated by Ramiro Inguanzo, a town resident and assistant village manager of Bal Harbour Village and is sponsored by the Miami Lakes Education Advisory Board.

The town plans to livestream the forum on its social media platforms.  Members of the community wishing to submit questions may email them to candidateforum@miamilakes-fl.gov.

Voters may make their choices during the early voting period:  Aug. 8 – Aug. 21, or on Primary Election Day, Tuesday, Aug. 23. 

If one of the three candidates doesn’t win 50 percent of the votes, a runoff race will be held on Election Day, Nov. 8.  

Early voting ballots can be dropped off or votes may be cast on Primary Day at the Mary Collins Community Center, 15151 NW 87th Ave., Miami Lakes.

Hours are: 

Aug. 8 – 12, 7 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Aug. 13 – 14, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Aug. 15 – 19, 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Aug. 20 – 21 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.

For more information about voting go to: https://bit.ly/3zuYnCF.

Roberto J. Alonso, 43, lives in Miami Lakes

Q: What is your education?

A: Miami Dade Community College, Associate in Arts, June 2002; Florida International University, Bachelor of Business Administration with a Minor in

Management Information Systems, April 2004.

Q: What is your employment history?

A: Costa Realtors Corp., Realtor, Sept 2019 – Present;      Always At Your Side Adult Day Care, Founder/Vice President, March 2013 – Present; SchoolMint (formerly HeroK12/Plasco Inc.), Co-Founder & Business Development, June 1999 – Sept. 2019.

Q:  Where do you live in Miami Lakes and how long have you lived in town? 

A: Our family has lived in Miami Lakes for over 35 years in the Loch Loman community. My father built our home in 1987.

Q: Do you volunteer with any town committees or belong to any civic or business organizations?

A: Miami Dade College, Board of Trustees, Member, July 2020 – Present; Miami Lakes Cars for a Cure, Founder, April 2014 – Present; Miami-Dade Planning Advisory Board, Vice Chair, Sept. 2018 – Present; Town of Miami Lakes Charter Commission, Vice Chair, Jan. 2016;  Town of Miami Lakes Public Safety Committee, Chairman, October 2013–2016.

Q:  Why are you seeking the District 4 seat on the School Board of Miami-Dade County Public Schools?

A: As a parent, with over 20 years of experience working with schools both locally and throughout the country, I believe that the school board needs a dynamic and proven leader. My parents came to this country as small children, through Operation Pedro Pan, seeking freedom and a good education, which is why our family has always been rooted in education. My two sisters are local public school teachers and I focused on working in the field of Education Technology.  For the past two years, I have had the honor to serve our community as a Board of Trustees member at Miami Dade College, helping lead the largest college in the United States. I have been working to bring educational excellence to our college and I look forward to working with our local K-12 schools. My goal is to always be the voice of our community by providing an active presence at our schools, working hand in hand with parents, teachers, and students.

Q: Given this is a non-partisan seat, if elected do you believe you can make decisions without being influenced by your political party?

A: Absolutely. I appreciate and welcome the endorsement of many state and local leaders, especially, Governor DeSantis who is publicly and strongly endorsing my campaign.  As the next school board member of District 4, I will always serve and protect the interests of my constituents. They are placing their trust in me, and I will do everything possible to make their voices heard and have an active presence for as long as I am on the school board.

Q: What are the biggest challenges for teachers, staff, and students, district-wide?

A:  Our country and especially our schools are facing very challenging times which will require experienced leadership that can build community while being able to bring problem solving skills and passion. Some of the biggest challenges are: 
First and foremost is school safety. We must protect our students and teachers.

Students want to be kids, not be indoctrinated by politics

Smaller class sizes

Lack of support/resources for teachers

Teacher pay is too low

Poor standardized testing structure

Students want career and vocational training in the schools.

Q:  What do you believe are the biggest needs for District 4?

A: I believe District 4 is blessed with some of the best schools in Miami Dade County Public Schools, but we can always find areas to improve. The biggest challenges in District 4 will be making sure our schools are safe, secure funding for programming for our schools and special needs programs and provide our teachers with fair salaries and the support they need in the

classroom. Also, I will always promote and stand up for parental school choice and charter schools, which give unique educational opportunities for our students in need.

Q: Why are you running for this office?

A: I am running for office because as the son of two Cuban immigrants, I experienced firsthand the power that a good education can have on someone. I want every student in District 4 to not only have the opportunity to go to school, but to have an excellent quality education at their fingertips. Having two school age children and having both of my sisters as teachers in public schools, I understand exactly the pain points that my community is facing, and I am determined to create positive change.

Q: Have you ever run for this or any other office before?

A: No

Q: What are your three priorities for public education and if elected, how do you plan to accomplish them?

A: School Safety – work with local law enforcement, mental health professionals and security experts to make sure we have a safe learning environment.

School Choice – work with our community and district leadership to bring the programs that are

needed in our schools. My focus will always be to give parents and students the opportunity to the best education experience.

Teacher Pay – it’s time that we bring someone with business experience on to the board to analyze our budgets and find savings while providing our teachers fair compensation.

Q: What administrative or teaching experience in public schools would make you qualified to serve on the board?

A: I have been in the education industry for over 20 years. As the co-founder of a platform called

Hero/SchoolMint, I worked with thousands of public schools, including schools in Miami-Dade County, to provide them with my solutions and training. In that role, I also worked with school board members, district leadership, teachers, students and the community to implement transformative and effective solutions.

More recently, I was appointed to serve on the Board of Trustees for Miami Dade College. I have held this position for over two years and work daily on representing the thousands of students that attend MDC.

Q. What is your view on charter schools that receive funding from tax dollars?

A:  My priority is to support parental choice, allowing all students to have access to a good education regardless of where they live. I will always promote and stand up for parental school choice and charter schools, which give unique educational opportunities for our students in need.

Endorsers to his campaign as of July 27 are:  School Board Member Christi Fraga;  Fla. Gov. Ron Desantis; Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez; state Rep. Tom Fabricio, R-Miami Lakes; state Rep. Alex Rizo, R-Hialeah; former state Rep. and Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes; Miami Lakes Councilmembers Carlos Alvarez; Luis Collazo; Josh Dieguez and Marilyn Ruano; Hialeah Mayor Esteban Bovo; Council President Carl Zogby; Council Vice President Monica Perez; Councilmembers Bryan Calvo; Vivian Casals-Munoz; Jacqueline Garcia-Roves; Luis Rodriguez and Jesus Tundidor. Also, Hialeah Gardens Mayor Yioset De La Cruz; Councilmembers Luciano Garcia; Rolando Pina; Jorge Merida; Jorge Gutierrez and Elmo Urra.

Maribel Balbin, 68, lives in Miami Lakes

Q: What is your education?

A: Bachelor of Arts and Master’s in public administration, Florida International University.

Q: What is your employment history?

A: I am a recently retired, public sector professional administrator. I began my public service career working in the records management division of Jackson Memorial Hospital, spent several years as a policy advisor to the former County Commissioner of District 13, then became a Special Assistant to the Director of Miami-Dade County’s General Services Administration.  I was then recruited by the South Florida Water Management District to provide outreach and communications, went on to become the first Water Conservation Manager for Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department and was then asked to be part of the initial staff of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability.  I finished my public service career as a senior staff member of the Department of Environmental Resources Management.  I currently have my own business, a communications and outreach company, Public Affairs Concepts.  

Q:  Where do you live in Miami Lakes and how long have you lived in town? 

A: I live [in Lake Sandra] and am active with our Lake Sandra HOA. I’ve lived in Miami Lakes for over 30 years.

Q: Do you volunteer with any town committees or belong to any civic or business organizations?

A: I currently serve on the Neighborhood Service District-Miami Lakes Section 1- Guard Gate District Advisory Committee and was a member of the Municipal Advisory Committee that was established to create the Town of Miami Lakes.  My civic involvement has included numerous organizations. Since becoming eligible to vote I have been involved with the League of Women Voters, eventually becoming president of the Miami-Dade County Chapter, and later selected to serve as a board member for the Florida League and board member and trustee of the National League.

I’m a former chair of the Miami-Dade Commission for Women and have served on the Art in Public Places Trust; Miami-Dade Community Relations Board; American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora, Miami-Dade College School of Continuing Education and Professional Development Advisory Board and have volunteered for various projects and activities throughout the years.

Q: Why are you seeking the District 4 seat on the School Board of Miami-Dade County Public Schools? 

A: The surprise announcement from Perla Tabares Hantman that she would not seek re-election immediately piqued my interest. With all that the former Superintendent Alberto Carvalho had accomplished over the past decades, under her leadership and direction as chair of the board, I felt I had to do something to ensure our schools would continue to set the pace for academic achievement among Florida districts.

I firmly believe the people of Miami-Dade County desire to have the best education possible for their children and our public schools provide the best opportunities to learn and prepare young adults to achieve their potential.

As the product of the public school system with a daughter teaching high school and grandchildren in K-8, I feel a commitment and gratitude for the opportunities that our public school system has provided to our family.  I want to make sure that every single child in the district is provided with the best education with all the resources in the safest environment.  

Q: Given this is a non-partisan seat, if elected do you believe you can make decisions without being influenced by your political party? 

A: One of the reasons I am running is to ensure partisan politics do not pollute our local schools. The people of Miami-Dade County have approved a major bond program to invest in our schools, making every public school a great choice to attend.  Our residents have supported measures to increase the pay of our local teachers and district police force. The voters of Miami-Dade County have supported our schools without any partisan agenda. We need to respect the will of the people and keep focused on what is best for our children. We should not play politics with the education of our children, as such nonsense only creates divisions and rancor and provides a distraction from what’s really important, our children’s future.

Q: What are the biggest challenges for teachers, staff and students, district-wide? 

A: We need to work to fully recover from any academic slippage that may have occurred during this pandemic. We must work to restore a sense of well-being in our schools, where children are nurtured and lessons are taught in a safe, healthy and secure setting.  To do that we need teachers. Addressing the recruitment and retention of teachers is one of the biggest challenges for the district. Our children have shown themselves to be empathetic and willing to adapt to circumstances. It is time to acknowledge their sacrifices and help everyone get back on track for success, especially those that fell behind, by implementing programs that would allow them to keep up with their academic progress.  Our children are resilient and have proved it by their high scores in statewide testing. Our challenge is to build on that and make sure we don’t leave any child behind. We need to continue working until every single school in the district is an A+ school.  I’m ready to take on these challenges. 

Q: What do you believe are the biggest needs for District 4? 

A: The safety of our schools continues to be a priority. This doesn’t mean just hardening our schools which differs depending on the date the school was built. It also means to provide more counselors, psychologists, and social workers. As with the rest of the School District, the recruitment and retention of teachers is a top priority. We also need to make sure that special needs programs are adequately funded.  In District 4 we need to be very intentional in providing all the resources needed for our English Language Learners students, which make up 19% of the students and facilitate communication with their parents. As someone that came to this country at age 14 speaking no English, I understand the need to help these students succeed. I also want to provide more information about the different programs offered and all the choices available to our students. I’d like to work on reverting the 12% decrease in enrollment in the last six years in District 4. It will be my priority to promote the value and benefits of attending our public schools.  Expanded Pre-K and aftercare programs as well as increasing the number of schools offering summer school would benefit working families in the district.

Q: Why are you running for this office? 

A: With an open seat, I thought it was important for someone like me to enter the race. As a product of the public school system, I’m very grateful for the opportunities that have been presented to me, my daughter and now my grandchildren through public education.  I want to make sure that every child receives the best education with all the needed resources in the safest environment.  I want to work every day to assure parents and the community that our schools will make sure that their children achieve their potential. I do believe as Horace Mann said, that “Education is the cornerstone of our community and our democracy.” Therefore we need a very strong education system to protect our democracy.  

Q: Have you ever run for this or any other office before? 

A: No, this is the first time I have run for public office. It takes special circumstances to make a commitment to the voters to be their representative. Fortunately, as a recently retired public servant, I am in a position to carry out the duties, if chosen by the voters.

Q: What are your three priorities for public education and if elected, how do you plan to accomplish them?

A: 1. Ensure we have the best teachers available to educate our children. To accomplish this goal, we need to be prepared to attract new talent and retain the amazing teachers currently in the system. That means that we need to guarantee adequate compensation and benefits. Which it’s why it is so important that we support the referendum question in November.  The referendum is the proposal to extend a school tax that voters approved in 2018. It needs to be renewed every four years and is set to expire June 30, 2023.  It will be on the ballot in November.  The property tax allowed the school system to boost pay for instructional staff and nearly double the size of the Miami-Dade School Police. The support of the supplemented compensation for teachers will sunset, as will the ability to provide an officer at all our school sites.

2. Continue all efforts to provide safe and secure facilities for our students and teachers and expanding/updating threat assessment programs. As well as enhancing mental health assistance programs.

3. I want to make sure that parents are aware of the range of educational opportunities available in the public schools. MDCPS is a Top Choice District in the country, from specialized schools to programs that prepare students for jobs after graduation or higher education readiness. We have an amazing story to tell, and I will devote myself to making sure parents have the information they need to make the best decisions for their children.    

Q: What administrative or teaching experience in public schools would make you qualified to serve on the board?  

A: I have been a professional public administrator all my life and have a deep appreciation for the responsibilities of an elected member of a governing board. Through the years I’ve attended school board meetings, providing public comments on agenda issues and advocating for funding for public schools. If the voters give me the opportunity, I will be ready to serve and participate as an effective member of the governing board as soon as I am sworn into office. As for teaching experience, like many other parents/grandparents in our community, during the pandemic I became a volunteer instructor, serving alongside the professional virtual teacher while my granddaughter participated on three zooms a day through first grade. I’m not saying the experience qualifies me to teach school, but it was a teaching experience that gave me an extra appreciation for the amazing work that’s carried out every day by our teachers.     

Q: What is your view on charter schools that receive funding from tax dollars?

A: As per statute, “charter schools in Florida are public schools and shall be part of the state’s program of public education.” And one of the guiding principles is to “meet high standards of student achievement while providing parents flexibility to choose among diverse educational opportunities within the state’s public school system.” Although the concept has evolved from its original idea as proposed by then Governor Jeb Bush in 1996, today they represent a choice for parents that want to opt out of traditional public schools. There are great success stories about charter schools as well as failures. I have confidence in the systems in place to assure accountability of the taxpayer’s dollars that are provided to charter schools.

Balbin's endorsements include United Teachers of Dade (UTD); American Federation of State & Municipal Employees (AFSCME); Service Employees International Union (SEIU); Transport Workers Union of America, Local 291; and the editorial board of the Miami Herald.

Kevin Menendez Macki, 41, lives in Miami Lakes.

Q: What is your education?

A: Bachelor of Science, Elementary Education, Barry University; Master of Science, Educational Leadership, Florida International University.

Q: What is your employment history?

A: Principal, Horeb Christian School, 2016 – Present; Professional Development Liaison, Math Liaison & Teacher, Joella C. Good Elementary School, 2012 – 2016; Teacher, Hialeah Gardens Elementary School

  1. – 2012.

Q:  Where do you live in Miami Lakes and how long have you lived in town? 

A:  I live in [the] Loch Ness [Estates community]. I have lived in the town since 2006.

Q:  Do you volunteer with any town committees or belong to any civic or business organizations?

A:  Yes, I am part of the Town of Miami Lakes Education Advisory Board.

Why are you seeking the District 4 seat on the School Board of Miami-Dade County Public Schools? 

A:  As a lifelong educator, I would like to make a broader impact on education across the district. My passion in life is to positively impact the lives of students and help create leaders that will shape our community.

Q:  Given this is a non-partisan seat, if elected do you believe you can make decisions without being influenced by your political party? 

A:  My decisions will be focused on what is best for the students, parents and educators of Miami-Dade County. In the past couple of months, I have visited many residents across the district and have heard their concerns. I will be a voice for them.

Q:  What are the biggest challenges for teachers, staff and students, district-wide? 

A:  The biggest challenges are:

For teachers and staff: Inadequate pay, teacher shortage and teacher morale.

For students: Safety, mental health and addressing learning loss/learning gaps.

Q:  What do you believe are the biggest needs for District 4? 

A:  My top priorities are school safety, supporting teachers and supporting parental rights. In addition, we must address learning loss across grade levels due to the pandemic.  My learning loss plan will include support for data driven intervention and an emphasis on differentiated instruction

Q:  Why are you running for this office? 

A: As a lifelong educator, I would like to make a broader impact on education across the district. My passion in life is to positively impact the lives of students and help create leaders that will shape our community.

Q: Have you ever run for this or any other office before? 

A:  I have not.

Q:  What are your three priorities for public education and if elected, how do you plan to accomplish them?

A:  School Safety: I will ensure schools are audited for both internal and external threats. We must support our school police and mental health professionals.  Supporting Teachers: I will support an increase in teacher pay, provide more professional development opportunities, and support creativity in the classroom.

Parental Rights and Involvement: I will ensure parents are involved in decision-making and increase the use of technology and staff to enhance two-way communication between parents and educators.

Q:  What administrative or teaching experience in public schools would make you qualified to serve on the board?  

A:  I have been a principal for six years and was a Miami-Dade Public schoolteacher for 11 years. In addition, I received both graduate and undergraduate degrees in Education. I am the only educator in the race.

Q:  What is your view on charter schools that receive funding from tax dollars?

A:  Any school that receives tax dollars needs to be held accountable in the areas of student performance, serving students with special needs, mental health services, teacher credentials and overall school climate.

Menendez Macki's endorsements include Miami Lakes Mayor Manny Cid; Vice Mayor Jeffrey Rodriguez; Councilman Tony Fernandez and Pedro J. Garcia, Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser.