Daily Archives: January 22, 2016

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Hispanic School Superintendent Is Out the Door

Melba Luciano
Osceola County schools superintendent Melba Luciano standing with her back to the wall during a school board meeting last year that discussed firing her. / photo by Maria Padilla

It’s not surprising that Osceola County schools has hired a new superintendent.

Melba Luciano, the first Hispanic to hold a top education post in Central Florida, is leaving the district effective July 31. The Osceola County School Board has been looking to “retire” Luciano for a while.

It was almost a year ago that I sat in on a school board meeting that considered firing Luciano due to mixed results.

“If you look at all of our data there are a lot of issues going on in our schools,” school board member Jay Wheeler said at the time, perhaps Luciano’s harshest critic. “We’re falling farther faster than Orange County and Seminole County.”

Luciano was spared in February 2015 in part because she had just returned to the district after having “six titanium tubes put in my back.” She wore a large black back brace to the meeting and stood occasionally during the meeting to relieve her pain.

She defended her professional performance, stating “I want to be able to bring to the board data,” adding that the state continued to move the goal posts on test scores and that teachers continually have to learn new goals and assessments.

Many Latino supporters packed the meeting to support Luciano, some speaking during the public comment period.

“She just got the superintendent job in 2012,” said Vivian Rodrígruez, president of the Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida.

But six months later the search was on for a new superintendent, continuing the revolving door of school superintendents in Osceola County. A new superintendent will make three in six years.

At issue is a 59,000-student school district that’s nearly 60 percent Hispanic. About 25 percent of students is considered to have limited English language proficiency and 74 percent qualify for free or reduced school lunch, which is a measure of poverty. In addition, the district has a high mobility rate – all big challenges for any superintendent.

Board members passed over another local Latina, Anna Díaz, an area superintendent for Orange County schools, in favor of Debra Pace, associate superintendent for human resources services in Brevard County schools.

Orlando Economy: Overcast with Bright Spots

The Orlando area’s economy still looks bright relative to the rest of the state and nation. / photo by Maria Padilla

The watchword for 2016 economic growth in Central Florida is “deceleration.” The latest forecast by University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith calls for mostly less growth, compared with 2015, but with a few bright spots.

Snaith’s report, delivered at the annual Orange County Economic Summit, stated it’s likely that in Florida:

  • Personal income growth will slow to 4.8 percent in 2016, compared with 5 percent in 2014. However, the outlook looks much better for 2017 and 2018.
  • Payroll job growth will “ease” over the next three years to 2.3 percent in 2016 versus 3.2 percent in 2015. It slows to an anemic 1.7 percent in 2018.

The good news comes in the form of lower gas prices, which directly translates to money in consumers’ pocket. Lower fuel prices – gas costs around $1.72 a gallon in the Orlando area, less in a few  competitive pumping stations – tend to help low income people the most by conserving limited disposable income, which can be spent on other things.

If you’re looking for a job, Orlando is still a good place to be, since its 2.9 percent job growth is the highest in the state. Unemployment is forecasted to remain under 5 percent, according to Snaith, moving it closer to a job seeker’s market, which will help those Hispanic newcomers who possess the skills to step right into a job.

In addition, when workers become scarcer it tends to push up wages – an important issue in a low-wage, tourism-dependent state like Florida. Don’t forget: Walt Disney World is still the region’s largest employer by a very large margin – nearly 70,000 workers compared with 22,000 for the Orange County Public Schools, the next largest employer.

Construction jobs will grow the strongest at 6.6 percent, the economist said. That sector usually hires a lot of Latino laborers. That is followed by professional and business services (4.2 percent) and educational and health services (2.6 percent).

˜˜ María Padilla – Editor