Column: Rosario clearly unfit for School Board leadership

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Jackie Rosario, who last month began her sixth year on our School Board, has never served as the panel’s chair or vice chair.

The reason is obvious to any of us who has observed her embarrassing performance during that tenure.

She’s not fit to lead.

Real leaders don’t engage in the childish, unnecessary, on-the-dais squabbles that defined Rosario’s contributions to the board during her first couple of years and too-often continue today.

Nor do they publicly express disappointment when a criminal investigation into trumped-up claims that school district library books contained pornography fails to result in the arrests of the four other board members and superintendent, as Rosario did last year.

Certainly, such leaders don’t treat their peers as political enemies who must be defeated in some concocted culture war fueled by harsh tones, divisive rhetoric and combative demeanor.

And they’re not hypocrites who repeatedly cite Florida statutes and accuse other board members of breaking laws, then celebrate receiving a political endorsement from the governor in violation of the state constitution, which requires school board elections to be nonpartisan.

Shall I go on?

Shall I mention Rosario’s inane and completely self-serving demand that our school superintendent conduct a time-consuming and costly investigation into the district’s donation of $70 worth of about-to-expire bottled water to a local charity that provided more than 700 Thanksgiving meals to the community’s needy – because she didn’t like the event’s organizer?

Shall I mention Rosario’s role as a staunch ally of a hard-right political group’s exhaustive and exhausting efforts to challenge the presence of allegedly pornographic books in school libraries, even though records show nobody was reading them?

Or Rosario’s curiously firm embrace of a new state law that required the district to repeal its racial equity policy – which had been celebrated by the local black community when it was unanimously adopted by the board in 2020 – then resisting the board’s efforts to replace it with wording that didn’t offend the governor?

How about the fact that Rosario represents District 2, which includes Gifford, but her positions on race-related issues are 180-degrees opposed to those of the people who live there, leaving it to other board members to give voice to the county’s largest black community?

Yes, there’s more, including Rosario recently requiring other board members to sit through her tedious questioning – on an almost-line-by-line basis, for nearly two hours – of the proposed bylaws for a new, school district-created foundation being created to raise funds to support its educational mission.

Just so you know: Most, if not all, of her questions could’ve been asked and answered by School Superintendent David Moore or the board’s consultant, Janet Knupp, prior to the meeting.

That’s how other board members say they addressed questions and concerns about the document.

Rosario, though, seized yet another opportunity to grandstand, offering up another unnecessary performance, apparently believing the public needs to see how the sausage is made.

And, again, her peers saw through her act.

“As a school board member – when you’re presented with something new that you don’t understand, knowing you’re going to be discussing it as a group and voting on it – its incumbent on you to educate yourself and become informed,” School Board member Brian Barefoot said.

“You don’t put everybody else in the meeting in that position, where you’re sitting there for an hour and 45 minutes asking questions that should’ve been asked beforehand,” he added.

“We all have a responsibility to each other, as well as to the superintendent and staff, to come prepared.

“When you don’t, you’re showing a lack of respect to everyone else in the room.”

You’ll notice Barefoot, a former Indian River Shores mayor, didn’t mention Rosario by name.

Nor did newly chosen Board Chair Teri Barenborg or Vice Chair Peggy Jones.

Both, however, agreed with Barefoot’s position.

Hours after Rosario received her education on the bylaws, she was at it again, this time putting on another clown show for her friends in the local chapter of the Moms For Liberty, the uber-conservative group that pretends to advocate nationally for parental rights and endorsed her candidacy in the 2022 election.

Rosario, for no good reason, pelted Moore with a series of questions – about the district’s planned implementation of the new state-approved “African-American history standards,” the Moms’ influence on the curriculum, and banning books that contain critical race theory – that nobody should’ve taken seriously.

There’s little doubt Rosario already knew the answers.

Moore, at best, appeared to tolerate the snarky tone and ridiculous content of her disrespectful barrage. He should’ve walked out.

That shameful scene, though, provided all the evidence needed to prove Rosario isn’t worthy of any leadership role on the board. And we’ve seen such boorish behavior before from her.

Don’t take my word for it.

Mara Schiff, who served on the board for four years before opting to not seek re-election in 2022, stated that she “never” considered voting for Rosario for chair during her term.

In an email sent in response to a request for comment from Vero Beach 32963, Schiff wrote of Rosario: “Her capacity to disrupt board processes, interfere with the work of the superintendent, misunderstand her role as a board member, and presume to act as a de facto legal counsel is a recipe for perpetual board dysfunction.

“Moreover, Mrs. Rosario caters to special political and religious interests at the expense of other community voices,” she added. “The chair’s job is to maintain a cohesive nonpartisan board, working together with the superintendent, as a policy governance team serving the interests of the Indian River County community, the school district, the staff and, most of all, the students.

“Mrs. Rosario does not demonstrate characteristics suitable for such a leadership role.”

Rosario did not respond last week to an email seeking comment on her inability to get elected to such a role and why she believes it hasn’t happened.

More than one other current board member agrees with Schiff’s assessment, according to local schools sources. Concerned with the best interests of the district, however, none of Rosario’s peers would comment.

Not that it would matter.

Most of us would agree the best school boards operate at a level that rises above petty politics and for the greater good of the district and its students – with open minds, respect and trust.

And for the most part, our School Board has conducted itself honorably the past four years, working under the knowledgeable and even-keeled leadership of Barefoot, Jones and Barenborg, who has begun her second stint as chair.

In fact, Barenborg also has served as vice chair twice since being elected in 2018 and re-elected last year. Jones, who spent the past year as chair, is now the vice chair, keeping two longtime public-education professionals in the board’s leadership positions.

Rosario, meanwhile, has only herself to blame for her failure to build any sense of camaraderie with her board peers, having pledged her allegiance to the Moms.

While there have been 5-0 votes on matters pertaining strictly – or at least mostly – to education, Rosario has made no noticeable effort to be a team player and find common ground on the highly polarizing culture-war issues brought before the board.

She could have put politics aside, stood up to the Moms and refused to react to the group’s relentless, desperate and disruptive attempts to remain relevant.

She could have refused to engage in any culture-war discourse and followed the lead of our board’s most recent chairs and vice chairs, all of whom have avoided politicizing our public schools.

It would’ve been easy, given the overwhelming rejection of the Moms in our community, where they have gotten little traction and have been reduced to nothing more than an occasional annoyance.

We can be proud of that.

Yet Rosario remains a fiercely uncompromising ideologue who continues to give the Moms a seat on the dais and louder voice than they deserve, particularly in matters that have nothing to do with academics or student achievement.

That’s why Rosario, as the incumbent, received only 55 percent of the vote in last year’s election, despite being challenged by a political newcomer whose campaign attracted little notice.

Despite the governor’s endorsement, Rosario was the lone Republican on the countywide ballot to receive less than 65 percent of the vote – which means more than a few local Republicans didn’t vote for her.

That hasn’t prevented Rosario, however, from conducting herself as if the voters handed her some sort of mandate, which is delusional.

Doesn’t she get it?

If so, Rosario knows nobody here wants the Moms to get control of our School Board. And if she knows that, she couldn’t have had any real expectations of being handed the gavel.

“I’m always going to vote for a chair who 100-percent supports our public schools,” Jones said. “That’s why we’re elected.”

She didn’t elaborate.

She didn’t need to.

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