By: Jen Russon
School board candidates have stepped up to run for the open District 4 seat after School Board member Abby Freedman announced that she would not seek a third term.
District 4 covers Parkland, Coral Springs, Tamarac and parts of Margate and North Lauderdale.
Parkland residents, Lori Alhadeff, Tennille Doe-Decoste – both Marjory Stoneman Douglas parents have qualified, along with Michael Kottler of Coral Springs. Alhadeff’s daughter, Alyssa was brutally killed in her classroom by a school shooter, and Doe-Decoste’s son was at the school during the shooting and lost his best friend, Joaquin Oliver.
In May, Freedman announced that after serving for six years, she would not be seeking reelection.
“Lori Alhadeff asked me in a meeting some time ago for my seat,” said Freedman. “After crying five times during our meeting, I told her that if this seat could give her just one second of happiness, just one second, she could have it.”
Alhadeff, 43, is a former health and physical education teacher who earned a master’s degree in education from Gratz College. A mother of three, she also has two boys, ages 11 and 13. She has been married to her husband, Ilan, who practices internal medicine in Tamarac, for 17 years. The family moved to Parkland from Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey three years ago.
“I believe my experience as a teacher makes me the most qualified candidate,” Alhadeff said.
Alhadeff’s said her high-profile endorsements include U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, Florida State Senators Lauren Book, Kevin Rader, former State Senator Jeremy Ring, Florida State Rep. Jared Moskowitz, Broward County Vice Mayor Mark Bogen and Coral Springs City Commissioner Dan Daley.
Since announcing her candidacy in March, donations have poured in. So far, Alhadeff has raised over $80,000.
She said she is committed to solving construction delays and escalating costs from the $800 million dollar bond referendum slated for school renovations and improvements.
“I would insist on accountability and transparency from Robert Runcie. We need to stop the delays in school improvement projects – stop them from spiraling out of control and costing so much more than projected,” said Alhadeff.
She added that Superintendent Runcie, who has taken on criticism for this, has strengths as well as weaknesses.
“The school district’s system-wide debate program is excellent. My daughter, Alyssa, was a part of it. I was a judge. I credit Runcie for that.”
She said she will wait until she is elected to make her assessment on whether or not to retain Runcie.
Alhadeff wants to implement the Sandy Hook Promise Program in district schools, as well as vote for the funding of more mental health counselors.
“I wish the ratio were higher,” said Alhadeff. “There should be at least one mental health counselor available for every 500 students.”
Doe-Decoste announced her candidacy in late June, and believes she will run a formidable campaign against Alhadeff.
The 41-year-old assistant director of parks and recreation for the city of Miramar has been endorsed by the Broward Principals’ and Assistants’ Association, Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness, Coral Springs City Commissioner Joy Carter, Tamarac City Commissioner Julie Fishman, North Lauderdale City Commissioner Samson Borgelin, and the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida.
She has also received positive feedback from Abby Freedman
“She [Freedman] liked what I said at a school board workshop about the Promise Program,” said Doe-Decoste.
When asked about the money her opponent has raised, Doe-Decoste said she is not worried.
“I’ve raised $6,000 so far, and I am putting some of my own money toward this, too. I’ll get it done.”
Having worked in local government, Doe-Decoste is used to getting things done. She is a former human resources director for the city of Delray Beach and holds a master’s degree in human resources development and administration from Barry University.
Doe-Decoste has been married for 17 years to her husband Julien, a respiratory therapist at Genesis Healthcare. They have three children: Destinie 23, Julien 18, and Jada, age 17.
“In my job as assistant director, I oversee childcare and camp programs. I know some of our schools have cut or will cut art and music programs, which I think is ridiculous. I know how to implement these invaluable programs if I’m elected,” said Doe-Decoste.
She added that decisions affecting special needs students are of concern. Her daughter, Jada, has special needs and will attend Marjory Stoneman Douglas in the fall.
“Of course I want to improve school safety in Parkland, but I also think it’s important to look at improving all of the schools in District 4. Look at how many Title 1 schools are in Broward County – how many students are on reduced or free lunch. We should care about that on the school board.”
Although the election is nonpartisan, she said, “People should vote for a candidate that is true to their political party, not because they want to fix a single issue. They should support the candidate with the same core values.”
Doe-Decoste eschews the idea of arming school teachers. She wants the school board to focus on hiring more behavioral specialists, and increase resources for troubled students.
“I have the skill set to get things done,” she said.
We reached out to candidate Michael Kottler, however, at press time, we have not heard back.
Important Dates for Voters
According to data from August 2014, 55 percent of residents 60 and older decided who would be the next District 4 school board member.
A primary election will be held on August 28, 2018. If one candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, they win the seat; if not, there will be a run-off on November 6.
Jen Russon is a freelance writer and English Language Arts teacher. She has published two novels to Amazon Kindle and lives in Coral Springs with her family.