By: Sharon Aron Baron
When the lights went down, the high school crowd, pumped up from the dance music, was in no mood to settle down for serious political talk, and so they began throwing water bottles from the auditorium balcony in the dark.
Audience members below either cowered or threw them back. Soon, bottles were flying all over the auditorium. The wife of Commissioner Larry Vignola, sitting on the front row, ushered her three children to the side to safety.
It went on for several minutes until the lights went back on and Commissioner Larry Vignola appeared from behind the curtain chastising the students, which quickly put a stop to it. The mood quickly calmed down, and the audience quieted to hear the dialogue in the student-produced video, as well as introductions, and then when questioning was well underway, they stayed focused or amused themselves with their cellphones.
The City of Coral Springs Teen Political Forum is an annual event connecting students with politicians. Students who attend receive service hours, and those that stay until the end can win raffle prizes. This year’s group of panelists was smaller than prior years. From the Broward County School Board was Robin Bartleman and Donna Korn. From the County was newly elected Commissioner Michael Udine. From the City was Mayor Skip Campbell, Vice Mayor Dan Daley and Commissioners Lou Cimaglia and Larry Vignola.
Missing was District Four School Board Member Abby Freedman, School Superintendent Robert Runcie, City Commissioner Joy Carter (who was on vacation), and a representative from the State.
For Vice Mayor Dan Daley, the Teen Political Forum continues to be one of his favorite events. Back in 2008, while he was a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, he met his future boss, State Representative Ari-Porth. “If it weren’t for TPF, I would not be where I am today.’
Daley said that the moderators asked thoughtful and important questions that matter to young people across the city.
For Broward County Commissioner and JP Taravella alumni Michael Udine, this was his first year sitting as a panelist, however, instead of waiting backstage before the event, Udine worked the crowd introducing himself to the students, many who recognized him as the former mayor of Parkland.
“It is always beneficial for the students to see and meet their elected leaders,” he said. “To understand that they can be part of the process and be involved with their government on different levels.”
Both serious and silly questions were asked to the panelists. The silly questions were designed to throw them off a bit, and to make them appear a bit more human. For instance, Mayor Skip Campbell was asked what his favorite movie was (Stripes) and Commissioner Lou Cimaglia was asked what his favorite place in Coral Springs was (Wings Plus).
Most of the questions were prepared by the student committee members of the Teen Political Forum who had volunteered throughout the year to plan the event. After that, students were allowed to ask their own questions either through Twitter or by standing in line at several microphones in the auditorium.
To Broward County Commissioner Michael Udine: What recent developments are most impactful for high school students?
“Everything we do affects your lives. You are stakeholders. We are working hard, in public safety, government services, the airport, the courthouse – so you can raise your family here in the future.”
To Vice Mayor Dan Daley: A follow up to the water situation in Coral Springs where Daley wrote a letter to the Public Service Commission.
“You should not have to buy bottled water for your family. You should be able to drink what comes out of your tap.” Daley clarified that it was an independent district and not city water that he was concerned about.
To Commissioner Larry Vignola: Any updates on whether or not the charter school will move locations?
“The commission has taken a look at a few spots, one of them was right near Coral Glades High School, but we’re looking at a couple other spots throughout the city to see what’s the best fit. My guess is the end of this year we’ll have a pretty good idea where the future of Coral Springs Charter will be located. The building does not match the academic facilities that we should have, the level of education that we expect..”
Question to Robin Bartleman: You say that earlier this year on Superintendent Runcie’s evaluation that the moral of the staff and teachers is at a low point. Has this view of yours changed?
“I think our teacher’s are incredibly stressed and under-appreciated. I feel that they’re less interested in high stakes testing, and the curriculum, and everything going on is based on those tests, and as a former teacher, that’s not what I got into education for. I think there still needs to be lot more done for teacher and staff moral. We had a workshop the other day, the other school board members are very aware of what’s going on in the classroom and the demands and we’ve given the superintendent directions to eliminate extraneous demand and paperwork that aren’t necessary and let teachers do what they want to do which is teach.”
Question for Mayor Skip Campbell: Since the approval for the budget for the new city hall. Has costs been cut in other areas to make up for the millions borrowed by the city?
“No we have not cut anything. We have been able to allocate funds to pay for the city hall, the city municipal complex. For those of you out there, you are going to be proud of this building. For those of you that do know, or don’t know, I was not for this particular project at the place it is. But I’m going to tell you I am very proud of what product we are going to put there and I think every citizen from Coral Springs should be very proud of what we have in Coral Springs as far as building new businesses, and we’re not cutting any programs, and we’re going to be doing this within our budget.”
Question for Broward County Commissioner Michael Udine: When will construction on Sample Road end?
“They’re trying to to this with as minimal amount of inconvenience as possible for the residents. My office is right off of Sample Road so I see this everyday when I’m traveling to my office. This is something I’m pushing the county on to make sure this project is finished as quickly as possible, to make sure it’s finished on time, under budget and within the parameters the residents of Coral Springs can live with.”