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Rob Panepinto announces picks filling out Orange County mayoral campaign team

Orange County mayoral candidate Rob Panepinto announced several additions to his campaign team Thursday, with key figures for strategy, communications, fundraising, and grassroots organization.

“As a first-time candidate for office, I am incredibly proud of the powerhouse team we have built,” Panepinto, a Winter Park businessman and former leader of the Orlando area chamber of commerce stated in a news release. “I am confident that our team is laying the groundwork today to ensure we have the resources to affectively communicate our message to voters across the county as election day draws closer.”

Panepinto faces Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings and Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke in the non-partisan contest for the powerful Orange County mayor’s seat. They all seek to succeed Mayor Teresa Jacobs, who is leaving due to term limits. The trio and at two other candidates in the race will face off August 28, with the top two going on to the Nov. 6 general election.

Attorney and political strategist Tim Baker, most recently a strategist for Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry‘s election and Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward‘s re-election, is the Panepinto campaign’s general consultant responsible for strategy.

Erin Isaac, a 15-year veteran of Florida politics in senior advisor and communications roles for statewide and local campaigns, is Panepinto’s senior advisor and communications director.

Kevin Hoffman, a Florida-based fundraiser who has worked with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Curry’s campaigns, is finance director.

John Dowless, a Central Florida political, public relations and marketing consultant with experience in national, statewide and local levels, including as senior advisor to Jacobs’ mayoral runs, is senior advisor.

As previously announced, Brooke Renney, a Central Florida-based grassroots organizer whose experience includes Winter Park Mayor Steve Leary‘s election campaign, is campaign manager.

“Orange County is at a crossroads, and Rob has the business experience to lead us into the next 20 years of growth and prosperity,” Dowless said. “Mayor Jacobs’ leadership has laid the foundation for a better Orange County, and Rob has a plan to ensure politics as usual don’t get in the way.”

UCF gets its ear to the sky: university to take over Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico

The Arecibo Observatory, the huge, iconic radio telescope in Puerto Rico that has starred in movies and in important cosmic and physics discoveries, is coming under new management: of the University of Central Florida.

The university announced Thursday it is now negotiating the final terms of a five-year, $20.2 million contract with the National Science Foundation to lead a team to manage the 18-acre reflector telescope, and build research programs around it. The university expects to take over, and to hang its UCF National Champions banner there, on April 1.

UCF is leading a team with Universidad Metropolitana in San Juan and Yang Enterprises, Inc. in Oviedo. Most of the current staff at the observatory will be absorbed into the new UCF program, instantly adding a new community of 17 seasoned researchers to the university’s growing planetary sciences program. The observatory also will be available for current UCF researchers and students.

“UCF’s oversight of this crucial resource further solidifies our university as a leader in space-related research,” UCF President John Hitt stated in a news release. “The observatory will provide a valuable new dimension to space science at UCF while creating more academic opportunities for students and faculty at UCF, in Puerto Rico and beyond.”

UCF’s management also will mean new infusions into the observatory, which has been struggling some with financial, organizational, and operational limitations under the tightly-fundeed NSA. The observatory long has struggled for money. The agency is spinning it off to UCF’s team in part in recognition that some of the NSA assets, particularly Arecibo, will have more growth opportunities with outside management.

Built in 1963, the dramatic-looking facility, a huge dish and dome carved into a limestone karst sinkhole in a Puerto Rican mountaintop forest, has been used as an onsite location for several movies including the James Bond installment “Goldeneye,” “Species,” and “Contact,” as well as for the TV series “The X-Files.”

And now it’s UCFs.

Universities everywhere that have astronomy, planetary sciences, or space research programs yearn to get even pieces of management or ownership of major telescopes, but there aren’t that many such observatories out there. Arecibo is not only in UCF’s backyard, but until a couple years ago it was the world’s largest radio telescope. Now it’s the world’s second-largest, behind a new one in China.

Already UCF has placed dramatic video of Arecibo Observatory on its university homepage.

Scientists don’t usually say such things out loud, but Elizabeth Klonoff, vice president for UCF’s Office of Research and dean of the College of Graduate Studies, and Ramon Lugo, director of UCF’s Florida Space Institute, both come close to saying this is really cool, for both the telescope and for the science possibilities.

“This really does provide us with the ability to augment our work in planetary sciences in a way that, when I got here, I never thought might be possible but I hoped we could,” Klonoff said.

Already, the telescope’s work has included observations that led to Nobel Prize-winning discoveries by physicists Russell Hulse and Joseph Taylor, who monitored a binary pulsar, providing a true test of Einstein’s theory of general relativity, and the first evidence for the existence of gravitational waves, according to UCF’s news release. Last year researchers discovered two strange pulsars that undergo a “cosmic vanishing act,” upending the widely-held view that all pulsars are orderly. In 2016, scientists discovered the first repeating fast radio bursts. According to Wikipedia.org, in its 54 years, Arecibo also has been instrumental in the first detection of the pre-biotic molecules methanimine and hydrogen cyanide in distant galaxies; in finding the first concrete evidence of specific extrasolar planets; in recalculating Mercury’s rotation; in finding the first evidence of neutron stars; and in producing the first pictures of an asteroid.

And yes, as in the movie “Contact,” written by Carl Sagan and starring Jodi Foster and Matthew McConaughey, the telescope has been used for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

Hurricane Maria banged it up last September. But considering what the rest of the island suffered, and is still suffering, it came out pretty well, Lugo said. There was some damage to panels and reflectors, and to an important radar unit, but the telescope remains functionally operational, he said. And the disaster relief package approved by Congress last month specifically set aside $16 million for repairs, and Lugo said that should take care of it.

Orlando airport board votes to send ultimatum to TSA

The Greater Orlando Aviation Authority Board of Directors voted Wednesday to tell the federal Transportation Security Administration that if it does not start pleasing Orlando International Airport officials more the airport will seek to replace federal screeners with a private company.

The board essentially is telling the federal agency that Orlando International Airport leaders are so fed up with what they contend has been a lack of communication, cooperation and accountability by the local TSA leadership, that they’re willing to pursue the extreme measure of becoming just the second or third major airport in America to throw out TSA screeners and replace them with private security.

In a nutshell, the board told TSA Wednesday it wants the local TSA leadership replaced with someone who will work with local officials to cut wait times and improve passenger satisfaction levels, and if the agency won’t do it, Orlando will. Both GOAA Board Chairman Frank Kruppenbacher and Airports Executive Director Phil Brown told the board they have repeatedly tried to get TSA to address their concerns about wait times, passenger satisfaction levels, operational flexibility, and dealing with new rules coming out of Washington D.C.

“I’m taking the gloves off with this: there is a leadership problem at TSA locally,” Kruppenbacher said.

“I don’t think any of us really desire deep in our hearts to go down this road but we’ve talked and talked, and so this is like, we’re moving in this direction,” he said.

Among the seven board members, there appeared to be a wide range of what was in their hearts regarding whether and how aggressively Orlando should begin what could be a year-long process of switching to private passenger screening services.

On one hand, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer voted against the ultimatum-laiden resolution approved Wednesday. He argued that the board was already sending a clear message, and didn’t need to actually begin a game of chicken with federal officials, heading toward something that at least a few of the board members appeared to not really want, private screeners.

Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs was not far from Dyer’s position, but she grudgingly, after several rewrites of the resolution, voted yes.

On the other hand, a couple of the board members, notably Ed Fouche, appeared adamant, sounding convinced that Orlando International Airport might be better off with a private passenger screening company.

Kruppenbacher contended he was more with Jacobs, but did not want to show any weakness to the agency, not after years of frustration. And so he sought a firm resolution that would have to be stopped if negotiations between the airport and federal officials succeed in the next 60 days, not a stopped resolution that could be restarted if such negotiations fail.

“I’m sorry; it’s time to go to Washington and tell TSA we mean business,” Kruppenbacher said.

Private screening at airports is available through the TSA’s Screening Partnership Program. The vast majority of the 22 airports that have opted into the program, such as those in Bozeman, Roswell, and Tupelo, are small, and they include four in Florida: Key West, Sarasota, Punta Gorda, and Orlando-Sanford. Only the San Francisco and perhaps Kansas City airports are in Orlando’s class. San Francisco International Airport is a little bigger, in terms of passenger counts, while Kansas City’s is less than half of Orlando’s size.

A switch to a private passenger screening service would come first with Orlando submitting an application to the TSA, while Orlando simultaneously begins interviewing and researching the 15 or so companies authorized by TSA to do the work.

The board struggled with how far members wanted to go Wednesday in a stare-down with the TSA, leading the resolution to be recast at least twice.

Kruppenbacher wants Airports Executive Director Brown and key staff and board members to meet with TSA. And before Wednesday’s meeting, Dyer arranged a meeting with airport officials, federal officials and the Central Florida congressional delegation, notably U.S. Reps. Val Demings and Darren Soto, and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, for March 30. [Word that such a meeting already had been arranged, critical to a process that had not yet been voted on, and involving more than one GOAA board member, clearly irked Jacobs, who only found out about it when Kruppenbacher first mentioned it. Dyer tried to ease her by saying Demings actually arranged it, and texted him about it earlier Wednesday.]

Ultimately, the board offered a 60-day window for TSA to “meet the triggers,” in Kruppenbacher’s words. Those triggers were not explicitly spelled out.

“The step we would take today is to begin the process; the board will not be formally voting to file the application,” he said.

The matter has come up before in past years, previously pushed aggressively by then U.S. Rep. John Mica, who fought a long political battle with the TSA and its unions, and wanted to have his hometown airport become a leading example of one that abandoned the agency.

This time the matter appeared to be more driven by airport staff, as Brown laid out a case Wednesday for why TSA screening operations had become disappointing and frustrating in light of the airport’s standards and objectives. Essentially, the agency appeared unable or unwilling to participate in big-theme-park levels of customer service and satisfaction, what airport officials long have called “the Orlando Experience.”

Kruppenbacher expressed annoyance that TSA officials left Wednesday’s meeting early.

Meanwhile, many of the thousand or so TSA employees at Orlando International Airport could lose their jobs and their federal pensions if Orlando switches to a private company. A number of TSA employees and union officials, some from other aviation unions such as flight attendants, spoke Wednesday, pleading with the board to not switch to a private security company.

“Screeners, you’re in the middle of it, but this is not about you,” Kruppenbacher said.

The screeners and others insisted no private company could offer more dedication to safety than they do.

Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants, noted she was working out of Boston the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists, screened by pre-TSA private security screeners, boarded two planes there and crashed them into the World Trade Center. Air safety is very personal for those in the business, she reminded everyone.

“It could have been me on that plane that fateful day. Instead, it was my good friends…. We can never go back to giving private companies the enormous responsibility of airport screening,” Nelson said.

Osceola County finds sweet spot for medical marijuana dispensaries

It may have taken 16 months, an attempt by the Florida Legislature to tie local authorities’ hands, and threats of a lawsuit, but the Osceola County Commission has found what many may consider the sweet spot in approving retail sales of medical marijuana.

As a result, one medical marijuana company gets exclusive rights to open stores in Osceola County, but just three of them.

On Monday the Osceola County Commission approved two measures that will allow three medical marijuana dispensaries in the county, one on U.S. 192 between Kissimmee and Celebration; one on U.S. 192 between Kissimmee and St. Cloud; and one on South John Young Parkway between Kissimmee and Poinciana; and then to ban any additional cannabis dispensaries in the county.

The medical marijuana business was awarded to San Felasco Nursery of Gainesville, which is also known as Grandiflora, and which is operating its medical marijuana retail business under the name The Green Solution, in association with a Colorado-based medical marijuana company of that name.

“I’m really happy to see Osceola County residents are going to have access to the medicine that a lot of them need, without having to go way out of their way to get it,” said Osceola County Commissioner Viviana Janer, who supported The Green Solution stores getting their certificates, and who nonetheless also voted for the countywide ban.

Elsewhere, throughout Florida, most cities and counties have struggled with their options on medical marijuana.

That’s because last summer the Florida Legislature restricted local options to essentially allowing as many medical marijuana stores as the market would bear, to go in anywhere that a pharmacy could be located; or to ban them entirely. Many local officials who knew they have Walgreens and CVSs around the corner from schools, churches, and prize tourist attractions, shuddered at the “anywhere” option. So many cities and counties voted to ban them, even though many of the same officials involved said they wouldn’t mind a small number of stores in carefully-chosen locations.

In Osceola County’s case, their first assessment was to provide for three or four stores countywide. They’re getting three.

“Things just seemed to work out,” said Osceola County spokesman Mark Pino.

Here’s how they worked out: In October 2016 the county commission approved a regulatory ordinance detailing how “medical marijuana treatment centers” would be approved for operation certificates. San Felasco applied and got preliminary county approval for three locations. Meanwhile, Florida voters approved Amendment 2 in November 2016, greatly expanding the state’s medical marijuana industry. So before The Green Solution certificates could be issued, Osceola County backtracked, and approved a temporary moratorium, buying time to see what the Florida Legislature would do about the new, expanded law. The legislature’s response was to pass the enabling legislation that included the all-or-nothing choice for counties and cities. The Green Solution threatened to sue Osceola County to get its already-approved certificates. Osceola settled.

On Monday the board of county commissioners approved the settlement with The Green Solution, and then approved a county-wide ban henceforth, under the state-mandated all-or-nothing provision.

“This is an equitable solution to this matter and gives us, as the local jurisdiction, the power to prevent an out-of-control proliferation of these facilities,” Commission Chairman Fred Hawkins, Jr. stated in a news release. “When voters approved Amendment 2, I don’t think they wanted dispensaries on every street corner in the community. This agreement and our ban cements this intent while allowing those who need this service the ability to access it.”

Mikaela Nix sets kickoff fundraiser for Wednesday with Pete Clarke, Pat Williams

Republican House District 47 candidate Mikaela Nix announced Monday she is kicking off her campaign with a fundraiser featuring Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke, Orlando Magic executive Pat Williams, former Clerk of Courts Eddie Fernandez and several current and former municipal leaders on her host committee.

Nix is planning her event for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Cottage on Lake Fairview

An Orlando lawyer, Nix faces Winter Park businessman Stockton Reeves for the Republican primary nomination, while Anna Eskamani of Orlando is running for the Democrats. Reeves also announced a campaign kickoff event for this week.

In addition to Clarke, who is running for Orange County mayor; Williams, a conservative author and motivational speaker; and Fernandez, a private attorney; the members of Nix’s host committee include Peggy and Greg Garnett, Winter Park Vice Mayor Pete Weldon, former Winter Park Mayor Ken Bradley, Belle Isle Mayor Lydia Pisano, Edgewater Mayor Ray Bagshaw, political consultant Bertica Cabrera Morris, and a couple dozen others.

The district covers north-central Orange County, and is currently represented by Republican state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park, who is running for Congress. Nix is a resident of the College Park neighborhood.

SD 14 Democratic candidate Mel Martin proposes anti-racism platform

Calling racism a societal plague, Democratic state Senate candidate Melissa “Mel” Martin offered what she called her anti-racism platform as a recognition of Black History Month.

Martin, of Cocoa, is running against Republican state Sen. Dorothy Hukill in Senate District 14, covering southern Volusia and northern Brevard counties. A retired major in the U.S. Marine Corps, who served as  an equal opportunity program manager, staff judge advocate, and strategic advisor for complex command issues, Martin issued a statement late Sunday she entitled, “Ending Systematic Racism in Florida.”

Among her proposals, Martin said she wants to see Florida public schools expand history, social studies and human behavior lessons to delve into “why societies were dehumanized and ransacked,” and to see state and local authorities provided with more tools, outside of courtrooms, to swiftly address allegations of “systemic injustice and unlawful discrimination.”

“Black History Month should be much more than an annual obligatory reminder. It should also be a time when we reflect on all issues that still need to be addressed, resolving to do so. While nation- and statewide debate on reasonable gun policy rightly maintains our attention, professionals – statesmen must continue working on all matters of the state,” she wrote in an accompanying email.

In her statement, Martin called racism a product of ignorance and fear, and a societal plague, and said it must be addressed with and countered by “an effective system of education and justice throughout all public systems.”

Her proposals:

– “Public and publicly-funded school systems must do more  than annual celebrations. History must delve into the ugly truth of why societies were dehumanized and ransacked, why wars were fought; the sad, horrific violence of America’s own heritage. Human behavior classes should explore and enlighten students, officials, and government  employees on why we fear what is different, how unconscious bias creeps into reality, and how inherent privilege enforces injustice and  inequality for so many. Such critical lessons shouldn’t be left to an  optional course in college, it should be basic knowledge, what we expect in our high school graduates and government agents.

– “To avoid unnecessary, costly lawsuits against government  entities, there must be effective measures available to process allegations of systemic injustice and unlawful discrimination based on  the standard of zero tolerance and the principles of full transparency and  swift accountability.

“A local, independent entity such as an Inspector General’s office should be processing complaints of racism (and other forms of bigotry) in government systems.

– “The State of Florida should have an online,  publicly available site to provide statistics and informational tools (such  as educational videos for personnel training) so Floridians can see how  our communities and public systems are treating this pervasive issue. It will take time and patience, but this basic framework of education and local justice, disinfecting Florida’s systems with full sunlight, is critical to  moving our society closer to where we should be.”

Stockton Reeves kicking off HD 47 campaign with Dean Cannon, Tom Gallagher, Ken Pruitt, Kevin Beary

Republican Florida House District 47 candidate Stockton Reeves VI announced he is kicking off his campaign with a kick-off event Thursday evening with a host committee that includes Dean Cannon, Tom Gallagher, Ken Pruitt, Kevin Beary and scores of others.

The rally, set for 5 p.m. at Hannibal’s On the Square in Winter Park, is Reeves’ campaign opener after more than six months of relative quiet, while his Democratic opponent Anna Eskamani of Orlando has run one of the most active and aggressive early campaigns in Florida, and in which Reeves, a Winter Park businessman, picked up a rival for the Republican primary nomination, Mikaela Nix, an Orlando lawyer.

Reeves’ campaign kickoff host committee appears formidable, led by former Florida Speaker of the House Cannon, former Florida Insurance Commissioner Gallagher, former Florida Senate President Pruitt, and former Orange County Sheriff Beary. Others on the host committee include former State Attorney Lawson Lamar, Greater Orlando Aviation Authority Chairman Jeff Fuque, state Rep. Sam Killebrew of Winter Haven; and several current and former suburban municipal leaders from Central Florida, as well as numerous attorneys, architects, builders, first responders, and others.

“It’s a great group,” said Reeves, who runs the Winter Park-based Center for Public Safety, which provides consultation, planning, architecture, and project management for police, fire, and other first-responder facilities construction

Through January, Eskamani had raised more than $168,000, one of the highest totals of any non-incumbent running this year for the Florida House, and reported having more than $127,000 in the bank. Reeves had raised only $11,000 so far, but put $90,000 of his own money into his campaign, prior to the incoming event. Nix just entered the race in January and reported only $100 in her campaign account.

Val Demings pushes bill to seek gun restraining orders on people deemed dangerous

Orlando Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings is lining up with the latest Democratic bill to restrict guns, a measure that would allow families to raise concerns about members who are found to be dangers to themselves or others and for judges to order police to confiscate those persons’ guns.

Introduced by U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal, a Democrat from California, the bill is modeled after state laws in several states including Republican-controlled Texas and Indiana and is intended to get guns out of the hands of people a judge may deem dangerous before they become violent with them. It would allow family members concerned about someone in their family to seek a temporary restraining order against someone in the family possessing guns.

During a press call Friday, Demings joined Carbajal and several other Democrats and advocates of gun control such as the Giffords Law Center to argue that House Resolution 2598, the “Gun Violence Restraining Order Act,” would keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill — which is in line with Republican rhetoric following the Parkland massacre.

However, no Republicans have backed the measure, and it remains a Democratic bill that has gone nowhere since it was introduced last spring.

Demings, a former Orlando chief of police, praised the proposal as a critical tool for law enforcement, something she and others compared with laws that restrict gun ownership for people convicted of domestic violence, extending that to people determined to be mentally ill and threats to themselves or others.

Friday’s press conference, of course, is a response to Wednesday’s massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Demings also cited the 2016 massacre at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub.

“We must do what we can to make sure law enforcement has the tools it needs to more effectively perform the ever more challenging job of keeping us a safe nation. The Gun Violence Restraining Order Act is a major step to doing just that,” Demings said. “Family members know better than most those behaviors exhibited by their loved ones that cause grave concern. Bad behaviors, abusive behaviors are almost always seen at home first.”

Demings also took strong issue with Republican-backed initiatives that would allow teachers, principals or other civilians to carry arms to protect schools or other locations. She ridiculed the notion, arguing that it is hard enough for trained law enforcement officers, and largely untrained civilians would be put in impossible positions.

She said such bills “only shift the responsibility from lawmakers to others. It shifts the pain, the hurt, and the guilt to school staff who will find themselves out skilled and outgunned in active shooter situations.”

Bryan Nelson’s $5 million mistake


Orange County Commissioner Bryan Nelson, who resigned his seat effective April 24 to run for Apopka Mayor, has staked his campaign on a specious claim that under first-term Mayor Joe Kilsheimer’s watch the city’s cash reserves have dwindled from $40 million to $3 million.

Nelson, a former state Representative, has cast himself as a fiscal conservative in his bid for the top spot in Orange County’s second largest city. The race is non-partisan, but Nelson is a registered Republican and Kilsheimer is a registered Democrat.

The Apopka race has serious implications in Orange County, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 120,000 voters, but where Republicans hold a current majority of seats on the county commission. A win by Kilsheimer in Apopka would make life a lot easier for Orange County mayoral hopeful – and current Orange County Sheriff – Jerry Demings, a Democrat who faces two Republicans, County Commissioner Pete Clarke and businessman Rob Panepinto in the countywide race.

In the Apopka race, Nelson has hit Kilsheimer in campaign literature and in public appearances on the city’s budget reserves. Nelson wrote in a Oct. 28 blog post that “we must … stop digging Apopka into a hole,” and declared that “Apopka’s reserves are now less than 3 percent.”

But Nelson might be starting to realize this isn’t the hill to die on, as Kilsheimer, a former Orlando Sentinel reporter, is proving that he still remembers a thing or two from his 20-year career in the news business. Namely, how to assemble facts and present them in compelling fashion. Go figure.

At the Jan. 31 mayoral debate, Kilsheimer read from the city’s budget book and laid out exactly where Apopka’s general fund reserves stood at the beginning of the fiscal year: $8.6 million.

Then in a Wednesday post on his campaign Facebook page, Kilsheimer went further and walked viewers through a step-by-step tutorial on how they could look up the city’s financial status themselves via the city’s website.

Kilsheimer demonstrated in no uncertain terms that the city’s unrestricted general fund reserves stood at $8.6 million at the beginning of the current fiscal year, not the $3 million that Nelson has been pushing in campaign literature.

Kilsheimer further showed viewers how to look up the city’s most recent audited financial statements, and directed them to the section that states very clearly the city’s actual cash on hand total across all accounts: $59 million.

So, what about that $40 million figure Nelson’s been throwing around in campaign literature? It’s unclear where he pulled that from.

Kilsheimer goes so far as to say it’s “a complete mystery,” but the simplest explanation is usually the most likely, and in this case it’s pretty clear Nelson either has a loose grip on basic arithmetic or he’s still practicing some kind of math he learned in Tallahassee.

The other issue in the race?

Nelson is a lifelong Apopka resident and insurance agent, whose campaign is underscored by his relationship to Kilsheimer’s predecessor, John Land, who spent 60 years a Apopka Mayor before his 54-46 defeat four years ago. Land died of a stroke at the age of 93 six months after the loss.

The late Kit Land Nelson, Bryan Nelson’s aunt as well as the namesake for Apopka’s main park, was John Land’s sister. When John Land was alive, Nelson often affectionately referred to the him as “Uncle John.”

Nelson’s claim in the January debate was that they “want to take their city back.”

Kilsheimer obviously thinks that means going back to the good ol’ days when deals were done behind closed doors. Looks like the voters will get to decide.

The election is March 13.

Matt Fitzpatrick to run for Orange County School Board chair

Matthew Fitzpatrick, a former teacher and vice principal in Orange County, has filed to run for the countywide chair position on the Orange County School Board.

Fitzpatrick, 50, of Apopka, is an Orange Technical College administrator who previously ran for the School Board District 7 seat in 2016, losing to Christine Moore.

He enters a countywide, nonpartisan contest with current School Board Member Nancy Robbinson of Orlando and Orange County teacher Robert Allen Prater of Orlando. They all seek to succeed School Board Chairman Bill Sublette, who aborted a campaign for Orange County mayor last month and is not seeking re-election to the school board.

Fitzpatrick, an Ohio native and a graduate of Lyman High School in Longwood, earned a bachelor’s degree in social studies education from the University of Central Florida and a master’s degree in education leadership from Nova Southeastern University. He has spent 26 years in education, teaching at Boone and Apopka high schools and Apopka Middle School, and in school leadership posts including the Orange County district athletic director. He now is assistant director of the district’s Winter Park campus for Orange Technical College.

Like many teachers, Fitzpatrick said he is frustrated with the testing regimens, mandates, and scripts pushed down onto the schools. He expressed strong alarm about the high turnover of teachers he’s witnessed, a survey that shows most teachers are looking for other jobs, and, in the universities, the reported growing shortage of students choosing to enroll in education.

“It’s driving teachers out of the field,” he said. “Teachers are losing passion.”

While Fitzpatrick praised the Orange County Schools system for having a lot of positive things, he also said he said he is convinced the concerns must be addressed both in Tallahassee and by the school board level.

“I think right now what we need more than anything in education is people in leadership roles who actually know how it works,” Fitzpatrick said. “A lot of times we have people in positions of making decisions and they have no idea about the inner workings of how we are helping students reach their goals and dreams, whether it be in a college or in a career.

“There is a lot of tension right now in education, especially in public education,” he added.

Fitzpatrick has been married for 25 years. He and his wife and three children live in Apopka.

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