Chairman of the Board

Folks don't know much about school board chairman Solomon Stinson, but they do know this: Don't cross him

As for the school board today, Hamersmith declares: "Sol Stinson is, in my opinion, running the show."

A teacher concurs: "Sol right now wields much more power than he ever did as a deputy. He always wanted to be superintendent, and the inside joke is now he's got it."

The nominal superintendent, Roger C. Cuevas, was appointed in 1996 to the position Stinson had sought for years. In contrast to previous superintendents, Cuevas remains nearly silent at board meetings and rarely talks to the media. That strengthens the perception that Stinson is the true power in the school system.

Cuevas's second-in-command, Henry C. Fraind, deputy superintendent of schools, has heard these theories, but he dismisses them outright.

"[Stinson] does not, and you can quote me on this, he does not run the system," Fraind stresses. "Dr. Solomon C. Stinson is a policymaker, and a policymaker has four major jobs: One, he's one vote among the other eight who hires and fires the superintendent; two, one vote in hiring and firing the chief attorney for the school board; three, one vote to approve the budget on an annual basis; four, one vote to make board policy.

"Board members have no authority to direct the work force," Fraind continues. "Only the superintendent of schools or his designee can direct the work force. I have clear-cut authority, systemwide, and I can tell you that no board member can run this system."

The school board has a rule preventing board members from giving direct orders to district personnel. But there is no penalty for breaking it. And school employees contacted by New Times say board members regularly violate it.

Florida's public records include some intriguing glimpses of the enigmatic Stinson. The fact that he has a concealed weapons permit is of some interest and his financial disclosure forms make for compelling reading. In addition to the appearance and disappearance of cars and houses, the change in his bottom line since he became chairman is substantial.

In 1995, before his election to the school board, Stinson estimated his net worth at $460,500. In 1996 he subtracted a $40,000 car, added a $64,000 house (the 6900 NW Fifth Ave. residence), and his net worth crept up to $490,000.

It was in 1997, after he had been board chairman for more than a year, that the big jump occurred: As of December 31, 1997, he reported his net worth at $739,000. The vast majority of the increase appeared in the form of liquid assets. His Capital Bank savings account went from $102,000 to $160,000; an account called "TSA Northern" went from $220,000 to $300,000; his credit union account went from $25,000 to $39,000. The 1996 form listed "Kemper 40,000," while the 1997 form listed "Opp Inv. 75,000." All told, a $249,000 increase in his net worth from December 31, 1996, to December 31, 1997.

His declared income during that time was his state pension of $77,000, and his board member salary of $30,000. He listed no other business interests on his forms from 1995 through 1997. Department of State records show him as an officer in only two active Florida corporations: Mount Tabor Baptist Church, and Movers, Inc., both of which are nonprofits. Movers (an acronym for Minorities Overcoming the Virus through Education, Responsibility, and Spirituality) is an HIV/AIDS charity associated with Mount Tabor.

Certainly the bullishness of the stock market in recent years could at least partially explain the jump, but like so much about Stinson, the true reasons remain a mystery.

The setting was unusually opulent for a back-to-school breakfast. English teacher Tonya Tarpley knew that moving from a middle school to Miami Northwestern Senior High in August 1997 meant stepping up to the big leagues of teaching jobs. But a back-to-school breakfast at the airport Hilton?

"When I was in middle school, we'd have our welcome-back breakfast in the library with doughnuts and orange juice," she chuckles. "And here at Northwestern, we're having it at the Miami Airport Hilton. There were ice sculptures, the school's jazz band. It was beautiful."

But something was wrong with the picture. The assembled faculty, she noticed, appeared anything but enthusiastic. "There were all these sour faces," Tarpley recalls. "The teachers were like, 'We'll be glad to get back to our rooms to put up our bulletin boards.'"

After the teachers had sat down to their buffet breakfast, William E. Clarke III, Northwestern's principal, stood up to speak. The thickset administrator offered a few cheery words of encouragement, singling out the "new blood" among the faculty, and asking the new teachers, Tarpley included, to stand. He then introduced another speaker: a short, slight man with a swept-back mane of salt-and-pepper hair.

Tarpley recognized him immediately. "With that hair, he kind of looks like Frederick Douglass -- a skinny Frederick Douglass," she says. "I looked up there and I was like, 'Wow, the chairman of the school board!'" Then, in his relentlessly dour style, Stinson launched into a speech that left Tarpley utterly flummoxed.

She doesn't remember the words, but the gist of his message stuck with Tarpley. "He was like, 'The stuff you all pulled last year, you're not going to be able to pull that anymore,'" she recalls. "Then he told us the number of other schools there were, and said, 'If you don't like how Bill is running this one, you can go to one of them.'

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