Matthew Fitzpatrick has a lot to say on Facebook. During his campaign, he has posted several long articles mostly outlining his views on education and thoughts on how the Orange County School Board should operate.
However on Saturday, he got more specific in targeting OCPS Superintendent Dr. Barbara Jenkins, Board Chairman Bill Sublette, and Fitzpatrick’s opponent, District 7 board member Christine Moore.
In his Saturday post on his Facebook page, he wrote this:
“When the School Board Chairman endorses his counterpart on the School Board, and the other School Board members not running or running unopposed contribute to her campaign, and, so I am told, the Superintendent accompanies the incumbent to a church before the election…I think they have all become a little too cozy down there. What’s to stop them from voting each other raises, sweet retirement packages, and discretionary funds that amount to campaign cash?”
According to Lorena Hitchcock, a Senior Specialist for Media Relations at the OCPS, a board member’s salary is based upon Florida Statutes 1001.395; which includes retirement benefits based upon the rate set by the Florida Legislature. She also confirmed that each board member has a $40,000 budget to be used for purposes of benefiting their schools, students and staff. That also is determined by the Legislature, but voted on as part of the OCPS budget.
Fitzpatrick’s post continued:
“We need to find out how each of them spent their discretionary funds…I think there may be a recall if what I am hearing is true. We need change…we need an education movement that is stronger than politicians and poverty…an education movement that brings real change…I gotta stop…I just wanted to share today’s morning post…several more to come…only 2 months to go and I have a lot to say…”
Fitzpatrick is the surprise second-place finisher in the OCPS Board District 7 election. He is in a runoff election against Moore, the incumbent who received 8,353 votes, but did not gain a majority. Fitzpatrick received 4,589 votes, edging out third-place finisher Isadora Dean to qualify for the runoff.
Moore thinks Fitzpatrick’s attitude might work against him if he were to be elected
“In a campaign you are auditioning for the office you are running for,” she said. “It’s unfortunate when someone running for the board attacks its board members. It’s counter-productive. He needs to focus on how he could do the job better. It’s concerning if he makes allegations like that when there is no basis for them. Don’t damage the institution just to win an election.”
When asked about his Facebook posts from Saturday, Fitzpatrick did not back down or walk back any of his thoughts. He first pointed his comments at Sublette.
“It just doesn’t seem like the proper thing to do for someone in his position,” Fitzpatrick said. “I kind of compare it to what Supreme Court Justice (Ruth) Bader-Ginsburg did when she came out and said people shouldn’t vote for Donald Trump. It’s a weird thing when someone seeks to influence whose going to be working with them after an election. That creates a situation where you are working with people that didn’t want you to win.”
Sublette believes it is completely appropriate to endorse a candidate you work with. He also referenced national political examples.
“It is common for elected officials to endorse candidates for office in our country,” he said. “My endorsement of Christine Moore, who has done a fine job for the citizens of Apopka and West Orange, is no different than the President endorsing a candidate for the Presidency, a County Commissioner endorsing a candidate for County Commission, or, for that matter, a Speaker of the House or a Senate President endorsing a candidate for their chamber. It happens all the time. I have a strong working relationship with Ms. Moore and am proud to be on her re-election team.”
Fitzpatrick also took issue with OCPS Superintendent Dr. Barbara Jenkins’ relationship with Moore. In particular an alleged tour of churches.
“I was told that she (Jenkins) escorted Christine Moore to different churches during the election,” he said. “Now that would seem to be highly improper for someone to do before an election… especially a superintendent who answers to the school board. These are people that make employment decisions and pay for the superintendent. And for the superintendent to be working to get her elected is not a proper situation to have.”
Moore denies she was escorted by Jenkins to different churches, but does acknowledge inviting her to the St. Paul’s AME Church in Apopka on August 21st, and attending another church service that Jenkins was speaking at in the past month.
(Note: Dr. Jenkins was contacted, but did not respond by the time of this article’s publication.)
Fitzpatrick’s biggest contention seems to be in the $40,000 discretionary fund each board member is given each fiscal year. This discretionary fund is part of the OCPS budget for the fiscal 2016-17 budget, which is projected to be close to 3.5 billion dollars. Board members’ salaries of $42,681 are also included in that budget.
“Now the other side of the coin is the discretionary fund the school board members get to spend on their schools. So what they can use that money for is to get their name out there if they want. They should advertise that yearly on how they spent that money to hold themselves accountable without someone having to search public records. I know some of that money was spent on murals at certain schools. If you can use that money to get your name out there to do positive things that are noticeable to the public…and they are very selective on how they use that money. So if you’re using that money to show everyone what you’re doing for that school, you can get your name out there to that community in ways that make people think that you’re the best thing since sliced bread. Now I don’t have $40,000 to make people think I am the best thing since sliced bread. So when you connect someone’s name to doing things at their school, that’s campaign cash. It’s not called campaign cash…it’s not classified as such, but it’s doing the same thing that campaign cash does. It’s an accountability thing. If we are going to give that much money to a school board member, we need to know how they’re spending it.”
“We need to find out how each of them spent their discretionary funds…I think there may be a recall if what I am hearing is true.”
“It’s concerning if he makes allegations like that when there is no basis for them. Don’t damage the institution just to win an election.”
Moore denies any political use of her discretionary funds. According to her, she spent them on school uniforms, the Apopka Jazz Festival (that Orange County students are performers), rocking chairs for Lockhart Elementary, various small expenditures for several schools and a mural for the new Dream Lake Elementary to name a few.
“There are a lot of restrictions put on the discretionary budget,” she said. “You can’t just spend it on anything.”
(Note: A request from The Apopka Voice to OCPS for Moore’s discretionary expenditures could not be received by the time of this article’s publication.)
Fitzpatrick would not reveal his sources on issues that might cause board members to be recalled, but he did offer this ominous comment about what is being said by employees at the OCPS District Office.
“I’ve just heard some things that are concerning. I worked down at the District Office for 2 years. I worked with every floor from the first to the ninth. I have people in every department that are friends. People respond to me in personal messages rather than Facebook because they can’t afford to say the things they’re thinking. Teachers, administrators, district office people are sending messages about stuff that’s going on. Those people are hard workers and they see a lot more than I see on a day-to-day basis. But I saw enough to know there’s things we need to fix. There are some things that are obvious and some things behind the scenes. People need to be really concerned about the way they treat people, and the way they operate.”