Demetrio's Rules

The world according to public school board member Demetrio Perez includes exile philosophy, Elian propaganda, and old-Havana-school politics.

The author of this dubious scrap of pedagogy hasn't given up in his fight against the indoctrination of Elian. When Perez's son, Demetrio J. Perez, first spoke to New Times for this story back in early May, he said his father was attempting to arrange for a delegation of Elian's classmates from Lincoln-Martí Schools -- whom Elian knew for all of three months -- to visit the boy in Washington, D.C., presumably to provide some ideological balance to all of those minicommies.

"We're in communication with [Juan Miguel Gonzalez's attorney] Greg Craig and [the National Council of Churches' Rev.] Joan Campbell," he said. "We're trying to do this in cooperation with everybody and not step on anybody's toes."

Demetrio J. also noted he and his father were working on a school board agenda item calling for a "community unity day" in the school system. "We're going to ask the superintendent to declare that, in a low-key way that won't interfere with classes, at 11:00 a.m. on May 26, we'll call for a moment of reflection. Every student would join hands and reflect on the need for unity and understanding in our community.

Elian's first day as a walking commercial for Demetrio Perez's chain of private schools
Bill Cooke
Elian's first day as a walking commercial for Demetrio Perez's chain of private schools
Migdalia Quintana says Perez overcharged her by as much as $300 per month in rent in this building, then forced her out
Steve Satterwhite
Migdalia Quintana says Perez overcharged her by as much as $300 per month in rent in this building, then forced her out

"Since the school system is charged with educating everybody, we need to contribute to healing the wounds that have been opened," the younger Perez declared.

But what of his father's role in prodding those wounds? For the weeks during which Elian actually attended classes, not a day went by without his picture appearing on worldwide television wearing his Lincoln-Martí uniform, pulling his wheeled Lincoln-Martí book bag. And it didn't take long before Perez joined numerous other bootleggers in appropriating Elian's image for commercial purposes, plastering both the school logo and Elian's picture on T-shirts. Even today at the Lincoln-Martí school at 904 SW 23rd Ave., two national flags fly in the front yard, one Cuban the other American; the latter hangs upside down.

At, the name of the school itself is actually written in a smaller typeface than the declaration beneath it: "ELIAN'S SCHOOL." The photo of the smiling Elian in his school uniform, fingers raised in the "v-for-victory" sign, graces the home page in full color. Neither the younger Perez nor his father have returned subsequent phone calls from New Times.

"I'm troubled that he's one of the more prominent Cuban-American educators," sighs Max Castro. "Our culture has a long history of outstanding educators and intellectuals, and he doesn't meet that standard by any stretch of the imagination. He's a paragon of intellectual mediocrity."

But producing Elian propaganda has not been Perez's only questionable maneuver designed to curry favor with the District 5 electorate. In June 1999 he organized a multicultural festival within his district, and invited only families who lived within the boundaries of that district. The parade cost taxpayers -- all taxpayers -- $30,000. He also recently resurrected one of his old tricks from his city commission days in the Eighties, when he sent out Mother's Day greetings to registered voters during an election year, using public funds.

In March 2000 he did it again, using student records to send birthday cards to students within the boundaries of District 5. He used his own money this time and sent the cards on his own stationery rather than school board supplies, but at least a few parents in the area didn't appreciate it, seeing Perez's gesture as a blatant attempt to ingratiate himself to potential voters (presumably the parents, not the kids themselves).

"This is a matter of courtesy and good manners," Perez told the Herald in April. "I think to congratulate a child on a birthday, that is something that encourages family values and courtesy. There is no politics and no business intent."

On May 9 he exhibited further courtesy and good manners, mailing out certificates printed on blue paper that read: "Happy National Teacher Appreciation Day!" This nonpolitical, nonbusiness, ungrammatical certificate, mailed to Miami-Dade County Public Schools faculty, also contained the slogan Perez's Website calls his mantra: "I want to reiterate my support to you, and thank you one more time for instilling in our students the sense of wonder which is the root of all knowledge in order to continue to EDUCATE CHILDREN, AND YOU WILL NOT PUNISH ADULTS."

Demetrio Perez's school board District 5 includes parts of Little Havana, Flagami, Sweetwater, and bits of Hialeah. At a whopping 84 percent, his is the most heavily Hispanic of the nine board districts, which came into being in 1996 in an attempt to make the school board more accurately reflect the ethnic makeup of the county. In that 1996 election, Perez won with 74 percent of the vote. (Perez rents an apartment within the boundaries of the district specifically to satisfy the legal residency requirement. The State Attorney's Office investigated his living situation in 1998 and found that Perez wasn't violating the vaguely worded law.)

The establishment of single-member school board districts resurrected Perez's long-dormant political career, whose roots stretched back to the Cuban city of Matanzas. His father, Demetrio Sr., himself a public school teacher in the Cuba of dictator Fulgencio Batista, sent his namesake to Miami through Operation Pedro Pan in 1962. He and his wife followed in 1964.

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