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Black Miami-Dade lawmakers push back on proposal to restructure school board

The debate on Rep. Ana Rivas Logan's proposal to restructure the Miami-Dade School Board has turned increasingly testy at each committee stop in the Florida House.

The bill faced its biggest challenge yet at an Education Committee hearing Tuesday morning, where African-American members grilled Logan, a Miami Republican, for trying to decrease the number of single-member districts on the board from nine to seven and adding two countywide members to serve as the board's chair and vice-chair.

"I believe the African-American vote will be diluted in Miami-Dade County," said Rep. Cynthia Stafford, a Miami Democrat.

"To date, Miami-Dade has not had a countywide African-American serving" in elected office, added Rep. Dwight Bullard, a South Miami-Dade Democrat.

With Hispanics comprising some 65 percent of the population in Miami-Dade, that "would almost guarantee" that leadership on the school board would be Hispanic, said Rep. Barbara Watson, a Miami Gardens Democrat.

There were worries from members from outside Miami-Dade, too. Rep. Reggie Fullwood, a Jacksonville Democrat who is African-American, said he was concerned that members from single-member districts would not be able to lead the board. And Rep. John Tobia, a Melbourne Republican who is white, said he feared each single-member district would be too large for one person to represent.

Logan characterized her proposal as the kind of reform Miami-Dade voters cast ballots for in last month's recall of county Mayor Carlos Alvarez and Commissioner Natacha Seijas. (Rep. Bill Proctor, the St. Augustine Republican who chairs the education committee, had to keep Miami-Dade members from talking more about the meaning of the recall than about Logan's bill.)

"It is not about getting a minority in place -- it is about getting the best person for the job," Logan said. "There is no one right now serving the needs of the county on the board."

The bill moved forward along a largely party-line vote, with Tobia siding with Democrats against the measure. The proposal has now cleared three of three House committees but hasn't budged in the Senate.