Ronda Vangates was once caught up in one of the worst scandals of Rudy Crew's tenure as Miami-Dade County Public Schools superintendent. Today, the 38-year-old school district bureaucrat is the anointed successor to board member Solomon Stinson, who has decided not to run for re-election. That's politics in the nation's fourth-largest school district.
Three years ago, when she was one of Crew's top advisers, Vangates ordered school district police to halt a criminal investigation at Miami Northwestern Senior High. Administrators there allegedly knew the football team's star running back had sex with a minor girl inside a school bathroom in September 2006 but did nothing about it.
Though Vangates, a Northwestern alum, insisted she was unaware the police probe involved possible criminal charges, a grand jury accused her of participating in the coverup."We find it unreasonable and unbelievable that it was not known this was a criminal investigation," the grand jury noted in its 2007 report.
Now she's director of performance improvement, curriculum, and instruction and pulls in $114,788 a year. And she is in the pole position to replace Stinson.
Despite the rebuke, Crew never disciplined Vangates. In fact, the school district's then-inspector general, Allen Vann, cleared her in a subsequent administrative inquiry. "Her actions did not display unethical conduct or failure to adhere to district policies," Vann concluded.
A Miami native who became a single mom at age 16, Vangates has been involved in local civics since her high school days. When she was in the 11th grade, she was among three Miami-Dade teems selected to represent the county at the United Way of America's Young Leaders Conference in 1987.
After she graduated from Florida A&M University in 1992, Vangates landed a job as an aide to state Sen. William H. Turner. She went on to work for ex-Miami Mayor Joe Carollo and former county Commissioner Barbara Carey-Shuler before joining Miami-Dade Public Schools.
When it comes to fundraising, Vangates is far outpacing her opponents -- former state Rep. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall and Vanessa Woodard Byers, a school attendance office employee.
Vangates has collected $44,564, including donations from 98 school district employees. One of them, Yseult Charles, informed Banana Republican: "I felt like donating because I like her philosophy and her secretary is my friend."
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Adds library media technician Yuwadee Wongbundhit: "I gave to her campaign willingly. I know a lot of people who believe she is a good candidate."
She has even scored contributions from people who do business with Miami-Dade Public Schools, like charter school operator and former school board member Demetrio Perez Jr., who gave Vangates $3,000 through companies he owns.
A considerable number of employee donations came this past August 27 during a fundraiser hosted by Stinson at downtown Miami nightclub Karu & Y. Among the attendees were superintendent Alberto Carvalho and some members of his cabinet, which prompted some school board officials to privately grumble that it doesn't look right. At the very least, it creates a perception that Carvalho can count on Vangates' vote if she gets elected.
Recently, Banana Republican caught up with Vangates over the phone. She reiterated that she did nothing wrong when she found out about the Northwestern scandal. "I am a woman of integrity," Vangates said. "I would not compromise my values or my morals for something as trivial as football." And she defended the support she is getting from her work colleagues. "These are people who are hopeful that I can bring change," Vangates said. "And that's what I intend to do."