Standing Pat

The school board may vote to name a school after a powerful union boss. That's politics, baby.

This could put the Republicans on the school board (Perla Tabares Hantman, Marta Perez, Demetrio Perez, and Manty Sabates Morse) in a tough spot, much as they were in February, when the board voted 6-2 to formally oppose the governor's voucher plan. (Hantman voted with the five Democrats in the majority, Manty Morse and Demetrio Perez opposed it, and Marta Perez was absent.) Now the Republicans might find themselves faced with the prospect of voting to honor Tornillo, who has been bashing their party's governor. Would Jeb be happy about that? Probably not.

"I don't think that's a factor," Tornillo says of his crusade against Bush's pet project. "This is about what I've contributed in Dade County. A-Plus is a new kid on the block when you compare it with my 30 years of contributions and involvement."

Before the board votes on any school designation, it must pass the naming committee, which consists of chairman Stinson and two other members: one from the district where the school is located and another from a district selected by the chairman. The FIU site, currently designated State School D-1, is located within District 8, home of Marta Perez. The committee will meet at a time appointed by the chairman, then forward its recommendation to the board. Two of the three committee members must approve the idea for it to proceed.

A school may soon bear union chief Pat Tornillo's name, but it won't happen without a fight
Steve Satterwhite
A school may soon bear union chief Pat Tornillo's name, but it won't happen without a fight

Marta Perez has openly and loudly criticized the current policy. "She's always said that she doesn't believe in naming schools for people who are alive," says Gustavo de Zendegui, Perez's chief of staff. Perez favors designating the FIU location for Carlos Finlay, a Cuban scientist who made breakthroughs in yellow fever research.

Party politics and Tornillo's longevity will not be the only factors in the decision. Pat Tornillo's UTD is a generous campaign donor, and the union opens its coffers to Republicans as well as Democrats. Seven of the nine sitting board members received endorsement and contributions from state and local unions in their most recent campaigns. (Neither Marta Perez nor Demetrio Perez got such backing.) The politicians are well aware of Tornillo's power and influence.

So here's the dilemma: Name the school after Tornillo and alienate Bush, or don't, and alienate Tornillo. Neither is a tempting option for a sitting politician.

Manty Morse, for one, has chosen. "This puts school board members in an awkward position, but I would vote no," says Morse, past chairwoman of the Dade Republican party. "That school is right there on the FIU campus, so I think it should be named after something dealing with the university."

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