The Name Game

All those in favor of A-4 say 'Aye,'" drawled Miami-Dade County School Board Chairman Solomon Stinson.

"Aye," chorused six of the seven board members present at the April 15 school board meeting.

"Those who oppose have the same right," Stinson said.
"Aye," piped up Betsy Kaplan.
"A-4 is passed," Stinson declared.

With this vote, northeast Miami-Dade's newest high school was officially anointed Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School. A ragged volley of applause and a few high-pitched cheers echoed through the school board chambers.

The numerous others in the audience who had opposed the measure shuffled and grumbled their way out of the auditorium. Steve Marcus, a neighborhood resident, was among the most dispirited. "I'm disappointed that the public process of naming schools has become a personal recognition club for schools named after school board members," Marcus had declared earlier in a vain attempt to sway the board to vote down Krop's name.

The recipient of the honor, who had sat mum for nearly an hour as community members and his peers debated the merits of naming the school for him, now took the opportunity to speak. A 68-year-old orthodontist and eighteen-year school board veteran, Krop had clearly been wounded by some of the comments. Hunkered behind his microphone in a gray sport coat and tie, his arms folded in front of him, he pronounced the criticism to be "very hurtful; it's always hurtful." He went on to thank his fellow school board members for supporting the naming and stressed that his squeaky-clean conduct would spare the board any potential embarrassment from having his name on a school. "I've been an adult for almost 50 years, and I don't think I've ever been in the newspaper with something in there next to me accusing me of anything," he noted.

Krop is now the fourth sitting Miami-Dade County School Board member to have a school named after him.

Even now, six months later, many question the way Krop High got its name. And not only community activists; some of the board member's own colleagues go so far as to suggest that Krop had been maneuvering to get his name on the new school for at least two years. They further fret that, under the two-year-old system of electing school board members from discrete districts, having a Krop High School within the boundaries of Krop's election district gives the incumbent an unfair advantage over challengers.

The larger concern, one voiced by school district personnel at all levels, is whether the new single-member-district system has given board members such as Krop too much power. Members are more likely to scrutinize schools within the boundaries of their districts, since they must answer only to voters within those confines. And Krop, according to five current and former school district officials, had developed a reputation for meddling in personnel affairs even before the advent of single-member districts.

Krop strongly objects to any contention that he either lobbied to get his name on the high school or that he tries to influence staffing decisions within his district or anywhere else.

Still, high-ranking school officials have either identified or inferred his presence just offstage in both these processes. The naming of Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School is a done deal, of course. But the story behind the naming suggests elements of egotism and political horse-trading that cast a harsh light on the growing practice of allowing sitting board members to memorialize themselves.

In years past, the board was not permitted to name facilities for any living person. That rule changed, though, not long after board member G. Holmes Braddock attended the 1975 opening of a middle school named for W.R. Thomas, who was superintendent of the school district in the Fifties. "His widow was there, his kids, his grandkids," recalls Braddock, who has been on the board since 1962. "I thought, 'This is dumb: The guy for whom it's named can't be here to appreciate it. It doesn't make sense.'"

At Braddock's urging, the rule was changed in 1976 to allow living people to be honored. Regarding elected officials (including school board members), the rule stated that any such person, "... if living, shall have left public office."

At the end of the Eighties the board saw fit to waive that rule in order to name schools after its own members. In September 1989 board member Robert Renick's name was attached to an educational center for handicapped and learning-disabled students. Renick's colleagues voted unanimously to waive the rule, citing his efforts to obtain federal funding to build the school. Later that year Braddock, the board's elder statesman, had his name attached to a new southwest Dade high school. Krop, the board chairman at the time, was a strong proponent of both actions. Every board member but one -- Janet McAliley -- voted in favor of waiving the rule to honor Braddock. "It seems very fitting to associate the name of someone with so many years of service," said then-board member Rosa Castro Feinberg at the time.

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Ted B. Kissell
Contact: Ted B. Kissell