BEST CHUTZPAH

Pat Tornillo

Valentine's Day, 2001. The scene: More than three dozen Miami notables, from county Mayor Alex Penelas and Commissioner Barbara Carey-Shuler to Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce chairman Philip Blumberg and United Way chief Harve Mogul, gather before the school board and urge members to grant bumbling back-slapper Roger Cuevas another two years in office as superintendent of schools. Union-boss-for-life Pat Tornillo is also present. As he has on other occasions (such as the time this paper made a stink about the diploma-mill degrees held by Cuevas and several of his top administrators), Tornillo comes to the defense of Cuevas, arguing that, with all the other problems facing the school district, the continuity of leadership Cuevas could provide is needed. The school board decides to extend the superintendent's contract by two years (at $251,690 per annum). Just seven months later the school board is under heavy fire from the media, state politicians, and the public for financial and ethical scandals. Cuevas, until then the board's happy, well-fed puppet, becomes the board's well-compensated scapegoat and is fired. At the same time the district faces a huge shortfall in state funds. When the cash-strapped district suggests that teachers take a couple of days off to ease the strain on the budget, Tornillo agrees. But then the disgusted union rank and file vote down the compromise. His back against the wall, Tornillo suddenly adopts the language of militant union bosses of old, charging that teachers shouldn't have to take a cut just because the school board wasted so much money on things like Cuevas's lucrative golden parachute -- up to $800,000. Now that's chutzpah!

 
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