Florida International University

The race for the open seat in the Miami-Dade County Schools District 2 has boiled down to whether voters will choose a candidate supported by retiring School Board Member Solomon C. Stinson or one of four other candidates.

Stinson, 72, and currently the school board’s chairman, is retiring after 14 years on the board. He has thrown his support behind Ronda Vangates, the school district’s director of performance improvement, curriculum and instruction.

Also vying for the slot are Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, a former state representative; Vanessa Woodard Byers, the district’s executive director of attendance services; Sandra Moise, an assistant principal at MAST Academy; and former state Rep. Darryl Reaves.

The school board primary election is Tuesday, Aug. 24.  It is nonpartisan.  If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the two highest vote-getters will compete in a November runoff.

District 2 spans Liberty City, Little Haiti, Overtown, Biscayne Park, Miami Shores and El Portal. Its boundaries include some of the county’s most academically troubled schools, including Booker T. Washington, Miami Central, Miami Edison, Miami Jackson, and Miami Northwestern high schools. More  “F” schools are in his district than in any other in the county.

Vangates, who grew up in Liberty City, served on the board of directors for the Belafonte Tacolcy Center and was the first African American to be appointed chief of staff to the mayor of Miami. The non-practicing lawyer is a vice president of the Miami-Dade Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Vangates did not respond to several requests seeking an interview.

Four years ago, she was embroiled in a case in which Miami Northwestern administrators claimed they knew nothing about a sexual encounter between a star running back on the school’s football team and a minor.

Vangates allegedly ordered an investigation stopped but a grand jury determined she was not involved in any cover-up.

Vangates’ $84,000 campaign war chest outstrips those of her rivals, with many of her contributions coming from outside the district, including California.

Bendross-Mindingall, who represented House District 109 from 200 to 2006, grew up in the Liberty Square housing complex and graduated from Miami Northwestern. She served as an award-winning principal at Lillie C. Evans Elementary School in Miami.

“This is not a seat that will be bought,” Bendross-Mindingall said. “You can’t run for any office and not care about people — or at least you shouldn’t. It’s about children and family.”

Her campaigning has included appearances at events such as the Operation Take Back Our Streets conference Aug. 10 and the Miami Peace Festival on Aug. 14.

Bendross-Mindingall has raised about $67,000 for her campaign, including $10,000 she loaned to her election effort and a $150 contribution from Miami City Commissioner Richard Dunn, who represents much of the area encompassed by District 2.

Byers, who has worked for the school district for 30 years, said her background in accounting makes her the choice for District 2.

She grew up in the district, attending Allapattah Middle and Miami Central High. Her parents were educators who graduated from Florida A&M University.

Byers, who is also known for her blog, “Blogging Black Miami,” said her years of background will help the district. If elected, she would open a dialog between teachers and the community on how to improve school performance.

“Every child that fails is a failure on us as a district,” Byers said.

Byers has just $12,972 in her campaign coffers but believes her use of social media and grassroots campaigning are more than enough to get her message out to voters.

Moise started out in the Peace Corps and has worked in county schools for 20 years. She became the founding dean of the Parent Academy, a county schools program to teach parents how to involve themselves in their children’s education, and it has been nationally replicated.

A native of Monroeville, Ohio, Moise graduated from Ohio State University before joining the Peace Corps and teaching in Dominica, an island nation in the caribbean.

If elected, Moise said, she would like to curb the problem of cyber bullying, enhance science and arts education and enrich the curriculum with field trips to places such as the Miami Art Museum and the Playground Theater.

She would also like to see standardized tests such as the FCAT used to gauge students’ strengths, rather than hinder their progress.

“Schools should be the cornerstone of the community,” she said.

She has raised about $27,000 for her campaign treasury and said that is enough because she serves as her own accountant and designer and maintains her own social media platforms. Her donors include ousted School Superintendant Rudy Crew, who gave $500

Reaves is running for the seat a second time, narrowly losing to Stinson in a 2006 runoff.

Reaves, who won election in 1991 to the state House District 106 seat, which had long been held by his father Jefferson Reaves Sr., was born in the district and graduated from Miami Springs High School. He owes more than $60,000 in fines levied by the Florida Election Commission for campaign finance violations in the 1990s.

Like Moise, Reaves believes in reforming the FCAT and encouraging a system in which teachers and principals promote students based on class work performance.

“Teachers and not a test should determine if a student graduates with a diploma,” Reaves said.  “We need a test to determine student progress but the test should not stop student progress.”

Reaves also supports better pay for teachers. Budget constraints have made teacher pay one of the toughest problems confronting the school board.

“I support paying teachers professional salaries,” he says on his campaign Website.  “We demonstrate respect for a professional by the wages we pay.”

Reaves has raised about $13,000 for his largely grass roots campaign. His Web site says he has knocked on more than 6,000 doors asking for votes.

Jessica de Leon may be reached at jdele002@fiu.edu.