Florida state Rep. Ralph Arza has a saying: "Whatever frustrates you
the most is the problem you've been sent to solve." For him, that is
the Miami-Dade County school system, which he feels has failed to meet
the needs of its predominantly minority enrollment.
After five months as an education consultant to Miami's mayor and his staff, Mr. Arza is still frustrated. But he's hopeful that Mayor Alex Penelas will use his post to aggressively advocate changes to help the city's troubled school system.
Mr. Arza, a Republican who represents parts of inner-city Miami, will return to his primary job as a legislator next month, when the legislature goes back into session. His stint as the mayor's education adviser ends at the end of this month.
Rep. Arza has a long-standing relationship with the mayor and city manager's offices, and last year proposed legislation to give city leaders more control over schools. The legislation died in the state Senate.
As a consultant, Mr. Arza has worked on issues such as school safety and charter schools. A native of Cuba, he has helped draft plans for an international charter school in Miami. Among his suggestions to the mayor is that the local official work to establish more alternative schools for disruptive students. Mr. Arza also has counseled the mayor to meet regularly with teachers and listen to their concerns.
Mr. Arza is particularly dismayed that the 370,000- student district's high schools are at the bottom of the state's academic rankings.
City leaders felt Mr. Arza, 43, was uniquely qualified for the advisory role because he is a veteran high school history teacher. He's also the vice chairman of the House education committee and a member of the appropriations committee—credentials that could work in the city's favor.
Mr. Arza said he does not view his consulting work as a conflict of interest because it's been done while the legislature is out of session, and he doesn't plan to introduce any more legislation that would favor the city's leaders.
But he plans to work informally with the city after the legislative session begins, and hopes a full-time person fills his role.
"When my term finally ends, my desire to help them will not," he vowed.
—Joetta L. Sack
Vol. 23, Issue 21, Page 16Published in Print: February 4, 2004, as State Journal