Joe Henderson: There is a better way to make your point to Gov. DeSantis
As part of Foster Care Month, First Lady Casey DeSantis is taking an active role in recognizing the 24,000 Florida kids foster care.

casey desantis
Hillsborough School Board member made herself the story in confrontation with the Governor and his wife.

The terse exchange Thursday between Gov. Ron DeSantis and Hillsborough School Board member Karen Perez should have absolutely been handled better by both parties.

I’ll get to that in a minute.

But first, the day was supposed to be about the announcement of new ventures out of Tallahassee to provide better access for help with mental health and substance abuse issues in schools. A press conference followed.

First Lady Casey DeSantis appeared with her husband at Tampa’s Roland Park K-8 Magnet School. After she finished her presentation, Perez interjected herself into the story.

The report by veteran Tampa Bay Times education writer Marlene Sokol captured what happened next.

Perez asked why there wasn’t more money to hire extra psychologists and counselors. She is a former social worker.

Gov. DeSantis asked, “What’s your question?”

He told her she was not a member of the media. She kept talking, and the Governor kept brusquely responding. That’s when the First Lady got things back on track.

“Listen, I’ll just say I am so honored and privileged to be in this position and, for the first time in the history of this state, to bring agencies together to better address this issue,” she said.

I don’t blame Gov. DeSantis for feeling blindsided and trying to take the heat off his wife, but it sounds like Casey DeSantis can handle herself. She had a career in live television before her husband won the 2018 election. She has the poise to deal with unexpected situations in front of a crowd.

It’s also fair to question Perez’s judgment in trying to hijack a presentation that appeared to be a positive move toward alleviating the situation that upset her. As an elected member of the governing body for more than 200,000 public school students, Perez set a poor example.

In the future, any student that wants to monopolize a public presentation to air a grievance can point to Perez as a role model.

That’s not saying this issue isn’t important.

The mental health of students and teachers came into focus after the slaughter last year in Parkland. Earlier this year, two students who survived the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School committed suicide.

That’s enough to make anyone scream in frustration, but that only makes it worse. Maybe Perez believed no one would listen if she tried to get a message to the Governor through proper channels.

Maybe that’s true.

Unfortunately, Perez became the story Thursday with her ill-advised showdown with Gov. DeSantis and I don’t believe that’s what she intended at all.

Some good might have come from it though, if only by blind luck. Maybe she did get people talking about a growing mental health problem in schools. Before demanding more money though, one of the first questions might be to see if Hillsborough is using all the resources it has received from the state.

Answer that question first, and then expand the conversation.

Politely, please.


Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.


  • Charlotte Greenbarg

    May 17, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    Mark this day. I agree with Joe Henderson!

  • Josephine Amato

    May 17, 2019 at 6:13 pm

    In this case School Board Member Perez truly displayed a lack of overall insight and awareness to the very issue she was trying to ask about. Hillsborough County School District did receive in August 2018 4.8 million dollars to implement an extensive expansion of student mental health services. These funds have largely, I mean by 4 million dollars, have gone unspent and the funds which have not been utilized, have not followed the law or reached any of our students. The Governor and State legislature decided to give schools an increase in funding for student mental health on the 2019-2020 school year. School Board Member Perez was going to ask a question about funding sitting in the general fund of her district, she is supposed to know about. Florida has given funds for children’s Mental health through our school in history making fashion. Instead of our school districts ceasing the moment to show what a difference these funds make in our students lives, our school districts have failed our students by not doing anything with it. School Board Member Perez needed to ask Superintendent Eakins at the April committee meeting, why did it take months to write a request for proposals, plan, and why have we have not increased services with the funds we have? The funding is there waiting to make a difference for our kids. The lack of expansion of student mental health services is 100% on Hillsborough County School District this year. It is actually School Board Member Perez’s job to know the budget ensure the funds go to where they are supposed to. She did not ask one question to our district at the HCPS Mental Health Committee Meeting in April. That was a good place to ask our district about the funds for mental health, especially because that is what she was elected to do for her Constituents. The 4.8 million is sitting in the budget doing nothing for our children and she let it happen. To be fair the title of your column should reflect where Perez was just as misguided.

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