In the 16 years since she first bounced an incumbent from office to become a member of the Miami-Dade School Board, Marta Perez has had never drawn an opponent.
But it looks like Perez, for the first time since 1998, must fight to represent the school board’s district 8 now that Lawrence Orihuela, a retired public school teacher and university adjunct, has filed to challenge her this August.
“My point of view will be different [than Perez]. It’s not about what she has or hasn’t done. It’s about what I can offer to the school system,” said Orihuela, who taught in Miami-Dade public and private schools for more than 20 years.
Orihuela, a self-described “political junkie,” said he has pondered running for school board for years. He said he decided to challenge Perez in part because no one has ever challenged her for her seat, which represents parts of central and west Dade.
“I think it’s time people in district 8 have a choice to pick someone, and have a discussion. If there’s no opposition then there’s no discussion,” said Orihuela, 66. “With no discussion there’s no way of knowing what people really believe.”
Orihuela declined to opine on Perez’s performance as a school board member, or on the school board in general. He said the only thing that matters is what he brings to the table: a PhD in education, curriculum and instruction from FIU and 20 years as an adjunct teaching future educators both at his alma mater and at Miami Dade College.
A problem for Orihuela, however, is that as attractive as his credentials are, Perez also has notable, similar bonafides. She’s a retired, Dade schools teacher who holds a PhD in educational leadership from the University of Miami - credentials that helped her beat then incumbent Renier Diaz de la Portilla back in 1998.
She has added a juris doctorate from St. Thomas University since then and 16 years of school board experience, during which she earned a reputation as a maverick.
“Anyone is free to run,” said Perez, 62. “The voters should look at my record for accountability and reform, and all of the positive things that have happened at the school district since I was elected.”
Perez also has loaned her campaign $100,000. Orihuela, meanwhile, had yet to raise a penny as of the beginning of May.
So far, Perez is the only school board incumbent to draw an opponent.
Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, Raquel Regalado and board Chairwoman Perla Tabares Hantman have all filed to retain their seats. Bendross-Mindingall has raised $30,000, Tabares-Hantman has a war chest of $53,000, and Regalado has raised more than $100,000 and is already running radio spots.
Candidates for the non-partisan school board election must qualify by June 20.