Miami-Dade School Board wins signal good news for DeSantis

Campaign yard signs outside the West Miami Recreation Center. (Victoria Duran/SFMN)

Monica Colucci won the Miami-Dade School Board seat in District 8 Tuesday. 

Colucci, 49, received 54% of the vote, while longtime incumbent Marta Pérez, 71, earned 46% with all 85 of the precincts reporting.

Pérez has represented the area from northern Coral Gables to West Miami in southwest Miami-Dade since 1998. She has been challenged just once before, in 2014 by a former district teacher. Perez won that election with 83% of the vote.

“Thank you to every single volunteer and to all the voters of District 8 for trusting and supporting me during this process,” Colucci wrote on social media. “I will work tirelessly on our School Board for all students, parents, and teachers in #MDCPS.”

Her win, along with the victory of school board candidate Roberto Alonso’s defeat of Maribel Balbin — a Democrat candidate — by more than 8300 votes in District 4, was significant. Both were endorsed by Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. Statewide, 21 of 30 candidates backed by the fiercely partisan governor won on Tuesday. 

This result bodes well both for DeSantis’ victory over Democratic opponent Charlie Crist in November and for the governor’s ambition to bring conservative ideas into the classroom. It also boosts his ambition to compete for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.

Colucci, a current teacher at Everglades K-8 Center with a 26-year teaching record, triumphed despite raising about $70,000 less than her opponent. On DeSantis’ statewide “Education Agenda Tour,” he praised Colucci’s conservative platform that opposed critical race theory and emphasized a “back to basics” academic model focused on reading, writing, math and civics. 

She claimed in campaign material that she had “seen firsthand the detrimental impact of liberal policies” in Miami-Dade County schools. 

School board elections in Florida usually do not receive a lot of attention. However, since education emerged as a top issue for voters in this year’s midterms, the Miami-Dade County Public School Board has become a battleground for fights over culture-war issues such as race, gender, book banning, parental rights in the classroom.  

“I think that we are all supporting the same cause, one way or another,” said Shayla Alfonso, a  resident of District 8 and Republican voter who campaigned for Colucci. “We all want freedom of expression and in the end we want improvement, and as a Cuban coming from a country lacking so much democracy and humanity, I know first hand the importance of people having the liberty to speak freely without limits.”

The race attracted over $372,000, more than the other three school board races in Miami-Dade. With DeSantis’ involvement, the local nonpartisan district race became a contest to watch.  

DeSantis has engaged in a full-scale effort to reshape school boards in Florida. He endorsed more than 30 conservative candidates across the state who vowed to support his education agenda during the midterm elections. 

Of those who won, eight defeated incumbents. Alonso, the other DeSantis-backed winner, was appointed to the board in 2022.  

However, not all District 8 voters are enthusiastic about the governor-backed candidate. 

“I have daughters who go to school here,” said Beatrice Guerra, 70, and a Republican supporter of Pérez. “I pay my taxes and part of my money goes to the school so I need them there to bring in the values of education without mixing in politics.”

DeSantis has faced fierce controversy recently as he has signed new legislation such as the Parental Rights in Education Act, dubbed the Don’t Say Gay Bill by opponents, and the Stop WOKE Act.

Many feel these new laws are fostering fierce division in Florida schools. Opponents of the legislation say they are vague and have instigated immense confusion over what is allowed. 

“I do not support Ron DeSantis,” said Marta Perez’s daughter Virginia. “[Colucci] has no experience and Marta’s been doing this for 24 years. I have also been a teacher in the past and it’s really rough out there and you need somebody who helps fight for teachers.”

Victoria Duran is an FIU student majoring in Marketing and Interactive+Digital Media at Florida International University. She is passionate, creative, and hopes to pursue a career in the marketing industry.

Lidia Delgado is a senior pursuing her Bachelor's degree in Digital Communications and Media with a concentration in English. After her studies, she wishes to pursue a career in the digital journalism field.