This is a shocking development. Associates of Jeb Bush have filed public records requests about elected local school board members. Behind this tactic is a growing anti-charter sentiment. Floridians have become aware of the numerous financial scandals connected to charters. Because of Bush, Florida is one of the friendliest environments in the nation for the charter industry.



“Folio Weekly has learned that three of Duval County’s seven sitting board members have been targeted for public records requests by Robert H. Fernandez, a litigation attorney who once served as Deputy General Counsel to Gov. Jeb Bush.



“Fernandez, a partner in the Coral Gables-based Zumpano Castro Law Firm, has issued two separate public records requests to Duval County School Board members Becki Couch, Dr. Connie Hall, and Paula Wright.



“Who is Robert H. Fernandez?

“As Deputy General Counsel in the then-Governor’s office, Fernandez served as a top lieutenant in Bush-brand education reform, particularly on school privatization efforts. Fernandez and one other attorney represented Jeb Bush in Florida’s landmark school voucher case, Bush v. Holmes. The Holmes case ended Bush’s plan for tax dollars to be used for private school vouchers. (Now, pre-treasury, “tax-credit” dollars are used for private school vouchers through the 501c3 organization, Step Up For Students.)



“According to his firm’s website, Fernandez “… is considered one of the leading lawyers in South Florida on representation of elected officials and candidates on election and ethics law issues.”



“Fernandez also once served as a reference for the cousin of charter school lobbyist Ralph Arza.



“Hugo Arza listed Fernandez and one other Bush-affiliated attorney when he applied to serve on the Florida Schools of Excellence Commission in 2007. The commission, which was designed to take charter school decisions out of the hands of local school districts, became defunct in 2008, when the First District Court of Appeals found it unconstitutional. Folio Weekly left a message for Fernandez on his office voicemail, but the call was not returned in time for our publication deadline.



“Who is Ralph Arza?



“Ralph Arza, a former member of the Florida House of Representatives, turned himself into the police for witness tampering charges in 2006. He admitted to leaving an obscenity-laced voicemail message for fellow lawmaker Gus Barreiro, and to using a racial slur in that recording. Barreiro had previously filed a complaint against Arza for calling a sitting schools superintendent a racial slur. Arza pled guilty in the criminal matter, served probation and community service, enrolled in anger management classes, and apologized publicly for his actions. He also withdrew his name from consideration for re-election to the House.



“Prior to the scandal, Arza was regarded as an important point-person in the Florida House for implementing Bush’s education reform initiatives. Arza, quoted often in the media as a longtime friend and adviser to presidential candidate Marco Rubio, now lobbies for the Florida Charter School Alliance. FSCA is one of several school-privatization advocacy organizations that are organized under the umbrella “Florida Alliance for Choice in Education,” or FACE.



“A vocal champion of school privatization, Arza told CBS affiliate WPEC-TV Channel 12 in South Florida, “The parents decide where the money goes, not the school district.”



“Charter schools have become more controversial in Palm Beach County recently, where, on Nov. 9, the school board voted 6-0 against opening a new CharterSchoolsUSA operation, citing a lack of innovative programming, which state statutes require. Charter schools are privately run, publicly funded organizations. Charter schools operate in privately held real estate assets, which receive public dollars for capital improvements.”