Fiery discussion marks reorganization of Royal Palm education board

A fiery, hourlong discussion led to two Education Advisory Board members storming out of Thursday night’s village council meeting as the council narrowly approved a resolution overhauling the board.

The measure redefines who can participate, closes a disqualification loophole, sets more specific goals and addresses concerns raised about the board, village staff said.

“This resolution is designed to address numerous issues that myself and (village manager) Ray (Liggins) have heard over the years,” village attorney Jennifer Ashton said.

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The council voted 3-2, with Vice Mayor Selena Smith and Councilman Richard Valuntas dissenting, to approve the measure with several changes.

In addition to providing more specific direction on what the council would like the board to accomplish during its annual August-to-May session — the board does not meet over the summer break — Ashton said the resolution closes a loophole that allowed the possibility of some charter school management company employees to serve, despite language in a 2016 resolution that disqualified “a person affiliated with or an employee of an organization funded by the School Board (e.g. charter school employee).”

Board member Renatta Espinoza objected to that. She serves on the board and is principal of the Academy for Positive Learning, a charter school in downtown Lake Worth.

“Charter schools are not funded by the district,” she said. “They are funded by the Department of Education.”

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Espinoza said the board should have been notified before the meeting so they were aware of the potential changes being made Thursday night, and added that any comments or complaints about the board should have been passed along to them. “Everybody likes to complain about something, but if we don’t hear it, we can’t act on it, we can’t correct it,” she said.

Board members also said the new resolution’s disqualification of school district employees will discourage educator participation, but Liggins and Ashton pointed to the 2016 resolution, which already disqualified them.

Espinoza was one of two board members to abruptly leave the meeting. Klemie Christie left as the council discussed a section of the new resolution that does not allow board members to miss interviews for the village’s annual scholarship program. The council asked how many board members attended this year’s round of interviews, to which Councilman Jeff Hmara, the board’s liaison to the council, answered, “Three.”

Christie argued there were reasonable circumstances for two of the board’s five members not to be there: One, Kevin Abel, had resigned from the board, and the other had a child applying for a scholarship, creating a conflict of interest. “Our liaison is not supporting us and so I cannot be here,” she said.

Christie is married to Palm Beach Post editorial page editor Rick Christie. 

The new resolution should provide more direction to Education Advisory Board members, Mayor Fred Pinto said. “I understand the passion and I understand the notion of wanting to be part of something that’s special … but we have to do that in the context of what it is the mission really needs to be about,” he said.

The original vision of the board was to recruit parents and retired educators to serve, instead of bringing in current teachers, principals and other school district employees who might use the EAB as a promotional platform, Pinto said.

“Anybody who is looking to be on the board, they can look at this resolution and know what to expect,” Liggins said Friday.

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