By: Sharon Aron Baron
Whether there was genuine interest in meeting their elected officials or the desire to earn the required service hours, one thing was clear: over 1,400 Coral Springs and Parkland high school students turned out for this year’s Teen Political Forum at the Center for the Arts.
With prize money of $1,000 at stake to the school that brought in the most students, a movement was on by government clubs along with the principals of Coral Glades, Coral Springs, Coral Springs Charter, Coral Springs Christian, JP Taravella and Marjory Stoneman Douglas to get as many students to the forum as possible.
The evening began with school registration and complimentary food. In the auditorium, dance music along with a light show and a “kiss cam” (without the kissing) kept the students entertained before the event. When the business began of asking elected officials serious questions, many found it hard to settle down, making it difficult to listen. Many students took to the lobby area until the end, which was required to collect those lucrative service hours.
Even through the noise, there were many informative – as well as entertaining moments for learning about the local and national political process, and many students seemed genuinely interested in the questions that affected their world.
The Teen Political Forum, created in 2007 by former Mayor Roy Gold while he was a commissioner has been led for the past four years by Commissioner Larry Vignola. Gold, in the audience, was once again overlooked by the commissioner in a public welcome for all dignitaries, and no mention of him was made in the program hand-out. But this omission wasn’t anything new. Every year, Gold is given the cold shoulder at the Teen Political Forum – an event that he started.
With over 50 student volunteers this year, Vignola did an excellent job leading the team, however, continuing with the practice of a religious prayer at the beginning of a city sponsored event with public school students of varying faiths in attendance should be questioned for future forums. Vignola said this was how it was always done and the student volunteers insisted on a religious prayer this year during their meetings. Last year, the commission stopped religious invocations before city commission meetings based upon the supreme court ruling The Town of Greece v. Galloway, which if they continued, this would open the door to every faith to perform invocations. If the forum continues with religious prayer, they too must allow all faiths as well. Best practice is to keep this a secular event.
This years’s panelist included: Commissioners Larry Vignola, Joy Carter and Lou Cimaglia, Vice Mayor Dan Daley, U.S. Congressman Ted Deutch, State Representative Jared Moskowitz, School Superintendent Robert Runcie, and School Board Members Abby Freedman and Donna Korn. State Senator Jeremy Ring, who was slated to be at the event, but canceled that morning.
The first round of questions were generated by the committee or Twitter and many were directed at school board members.
Superintendent Robert Runcie was asked about the $800 million school improvement bond.
“We have a scheduled effort to get all this work done over a five to seven year period. It’s a lot of work…..we have about 230 projects at various stages of procurement. We’ve deployed over 35,000 computers now to our schools so we’re going to continue to work so that we make sure we have the best in technology….and create the kind of school environment our kids deserve to have a great education.”
Congressman Ted Deutch was asked about the climate change caucus that he helped create and what steps is it taking in the upcoming years.
“The climate change caucus is the first time in the history in The US House of Representatives that we had Democrats and Republicans coming together and tackle an issue like climate change. We’re going to spend the next eight months going forward giving everyone in South Florida an opportunity for their voices to be heard. We can’t continue to put our head in the sand when it comes to climate change.”
School Board member Abby Freedman was asked why did her own city (Parkland ) not support her in her reelection and how did that affect her campaign?
“I felt it was critical that every individual who buys a home to know where their child is going to school and unfortunately the developers, when they were selling the homes were telling the buyers that they were going to have a school built on certain property and I knew that we did not have the ability to build a school that was going to be located up in the area where these individuals were buying their homes. Unfortunately, people didn’t want to hear the truth.”
Joy Carter was asked what the best location would be for the new charter school.
“I know it’s currently being redeveloped and analyzed. I know that it would be convenient to have it here, it would create a serious traffic issue. I would like to see what the proposal is..”
Superintendent Runcie was asked about past allegations of corruption on the school board and if there was any strategies implemented to make sure it didn’t happen again.
“The keyword is allegations. There’s no corruption going-on on the school board. What I will tell you is that this school board has worked extremely hard to make sure that we spend taxpayer’s dollars wisely. We have reduced costs of transportation, we have reduced our healthcare costs by $30 million, we’ve reduced office space….I’m proud of what we have done and glad to be in Broward County working for this great school board.
Commissioner Larry Vignola was asked about growing up in Coral Springs and what his most incredible moment was with Teen Political Forum.
Vignola explained he interacted with youth by coaching his daughter’s soccer team and he was trying to really focus on things for the kids.
“Trying to hear from you guys and trying to make improvements that affect you. Most elected officials, they won’t show up for an event like this, they’ll only look at people that are older and go out and vote all the time. We want you guys to come out, we want you to vote. The decisions we make will affect you a lot longer than it will affect the senior citizens.”
Someone asked where Coral Springs Charter School’s professional study days were.
Dan Daley then directed the question to Principal Gary Springer who was in the audience and told them to ask him later.
A student asked about eight period block schedule – which was met with booing from the audience.
Donna Korn said that when she was a teacher she actually taught the block schedule and insisted that both schedules were beneficial and the reality is that they had everything to do with your teacher, some teacher’s are good at teaching on it while others aren’t.
Dan Daley was asked what his favorite high school was in Coral Springs.
“I feel like I’m getting a loaded question,” said Daley who said that it was charter school. To which the charter high school students erupted into screams.
Congressman Ted Deutch was asked about Coral Springs resident and FBI Agent Bob Levinson who has been a hostage in Iran for over nine years and what else can be done.
Deutch suggested that all 1,500 people in the audience take out their cellphones and tweet #WhataboutBob. “You’ll send a message that the Levinson family will hear and you’ll send a message that my colleagues and everyone that is watching, will keep this front and center.”
Can Coral Glades get an auditorium?
Superintendent Runcie said, “Coral Glades absolutely without question deserves an auditorium. They should not be the only high school in Broward County without an auditorium. With that said, what we set out to do a couple years ago when we went out with our general obligation bond, was to fix the most critical issues in this district first – those are roofs that are leaking, air conditioning systems that need to be replaced and computers in schools. We’re going to do that, and as soon as we finish that, and that will take some time, I can assure you that we’re going to focus on doing right by Coral Glades High School.
School Board Member Abby Freedman was asked what were her campaign promises when she ran for school board the first time and if she kept them.
“Absolutely, one of the most important issues was in regard to end-of-course exams. I do not believe any child should be subjected to 30 percent of their grade…..As a result, our legislative platform for our school board – we have taken that issue up to Tallahassee and I would love for our senators and house representatives to see to it that when we get there we get support from the state that helped create this law, that they help get rid of this law.”
School Board Member Donna Korn was asked what steps she had taken to insure that lower level income children were receiving equal and efficient opportunities to succeed.
Korn said that early learning was one of her personal initiatives and that when she interviewed Runcie for the position of superintendent she asked him what he thought about early learning, because she said for her, it’s the crux of a successful education in Broward County.
Final attendance scores at the Teen Political Forum
JP Taraella 393 WINNERS!
Coral Springs Charter 342
Coral Glades 331
Coral Springs HS 203
Stoneman Douglas 148
CS Christian 37