Riverview Learning Center: School Board candidate, incumbent representative and district share their views

Donna Brosemer challenges the decision to move Riverview. School Board member Carl Persis comments on misinformation spread in the community. The school district asks the community to work with staff.

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  • | 2:00 p.m. April 3, 2024
Letters to the editor
Letters to the editor
  • Ormond Beach Observer
  • Opinion
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MY VIEW: Donna Brosemer challenges decision

When people tell us who they are, believe them. On March 18, the Volusia County School Board and district staff told us who they are. They also told us what they think of us.

The board had unanimously approved moving Riverview Learning Center students to the quiet beachside neighborhood surrounding the old Osceola Elementary school. Staff had met with the Riverview neighborhood but didn’t bother to tell Osceola’s. They read about it in the paper.

District staff was clearly annoyed that they had to explain themselves to anyone. Chief Operating Officer Patti Corr made it clear that they don’t. Riverview is an alternative school. Students are sent there whose behaviors, Levels 3 and 4, do not allow them to be left in the general school population.

Donna Brosemer, of Daytona Beach, is running for Volusia County School Board. Courtesy photo

No one – not district staff, or Riverview principal Thomas Soli, or School Board member Carl Persis, would describe what those behavior levels include. The district’s Code of Conduct says, paraphrased: 

Level IV:  Major Offenses shall be considered to be acts that pose a serious threat to school safety. Section1006.13, F.S.

The statute elaborates: Crime and substance abuse… delinquent acts and crimes; victimization of students.

Further, these require expulsion for one year unless the superintendent intervenes: Bringing a firearm or weapon to school, to any school function, or onto any school-sponsored transportation or possessing a firearm at school; making a threat or false report.

Mr. Soli only referenced vaping. We don’t know what treatments kids receive, or the criteria that decides when they may go back to their assigned school. Student numbers vary from 25 to 200.

Ms. Corr outlined the meeting’s process. They would talk, and we would listen. When a couple of questions were politely asked aloud, she threatened to shut down the entire meeting.

Our questions were to be submitted in writing, and they would decide which ones they would answer. They chose only the easiest and least informative.

Carl Persis began his folksy opener by apologizing for the way the decision was handled. He trivialized and dismissed neighbors’ concerns in a tone that sounded like he was talking to children. He said he “begged” Superintendent Carmen Balgobin to please hold a community meeting because residents were restless.

Carl still thinks he works for the superintendent. He doesn’t. He’s her boss, but now we know why he is totally ineffective on the board. He doesn’t know his job, and he refuses to do it when he can. Carl was on the winning side of the board vote, so he could bring the board’s motion and vote up for reconsideration. He was asked to do that. He refused.

Mr. Soli, who is coincidentally Dr. Balgobin’s husband, then did his dog-and-pony show: the school is perfectly run, Daytona residents love having them there, there will be less traffic, and the staff has absolute control of the kids, who have committed no crimes and just made a mistake.

That was false. He knew it was false when he said it. We knew he knew. He said it anyway.

The site currently houses Tomoka Elementary students, while their school is being renovated. Osceola is meanwhile in disrepair, with accumulated trash and fences falling down. Huge AC units run day and night and are so loud that neighbors can’t sleep in their own bedrooms.

Residents have complained to the school district, with no reply, but they are supposed to accept the district’s word about how perfectly this transition will fit their neighborhood.

District staff blamed Ormond staff for the lack of notice. Mr. Persis made sure everyone knew the commission was blameless. His wife is a commissioner. In other words, don’t blame anyone named Persis.

An annoyed resident finally objected to the district’s condescending and patronizing tone. He said it was inappropriate and unappreciated, that the group is well-informed and well-educated. He listed other board actions that showed their chronic lack of transparency.

Conspicuous in both tone and content were a few guests the locals didn’t recognize. Their purpose appeared to be character assassination. They accused the residents of “privilege,” and of saying “those kids,” which no one had said. They lectured that everyone deserves an education, although no one had implied otherwise.

At School Board meetings, they would have had to give their address. These folks didn’t. We can guess why.

Many questions remain unanswered. How many elementary students will be added when they are transferred from their alternative school in Port Orange to Riverview? How will the little kids be kept separate from the big kids? What will be the capacity once two buildings are demolished and the portables are removed?

“If you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” The school board and district have shown how they use their power. At the polls on Aug. 20, we need to use ours.

Donna Brosemer

Volusia County School Board District 4 candidate

MY VIEW: Carl Persis responds

As a teacher and a principal, I was positive, supportive, and always put children first. As a school board member, I continue to think positively, to be helpful, and to make thoughtful decisions based on what is best for students, such as alternative educational programs.  

Did you know? For more than 30 years, without any complaints from anyone in the surrounding neighborhood, the alternative educational program, for sixth through twelfth grade students, has been successfully operating at Riverview Learning Center, located about one half mile north of Seabreeze Boulevard. The neighborhood surrounding Riverview has many highly appraised houses. Their property values have consistently increased. So why the recent controversy? 

Volusia County School Board member Carl Persis. File photo

In October 2023, the Observer published an article when the School Board first considered combining the elementary and secondary educational programs and moving them to the Osceola site. In November, the School District’s planning and zoning department invited parents of students, who were in the programs, to learn about this proposal at a meeting on Dec. 5, 2023. The meeting was also noticed on district social media sites.  

In hindsight, it would have been better had the Osceola neighborhood personally been invited to a December meeting, too. As a result of not having accurate information, misinformation and negative comments about this effective program spread rapidly. Many residents were led to believe the district was not being transparent and was sidestepping community input. This was not the case; however, I understand their perspective. 

On Feb. 27, the School Board unanimously approved the Superintendent’s recommendation to combine the programs and move both to Osceola, the only location available on the east side of the county, which could accommodate 200 students. This was reported in the Observer on Feb. 28. 

After the board voted, I knew residents were still misinformed about the program. I asked Superintendent Balgobin to have another community meeting, which she quickly scheduled for March 18. This time, mailed notices were sent to 800 plus people, who lived within one half mile of the school. Forty-four people from the neighborhood attended.

Most of the nearby residents left the March meeting relieved; saying they wished they had known earlier what they knew now. I do, too. There were some who came to the meeting angry and expecting the board to reconsider this decision. They left unhappy. A few had great suggestions on how the school district could improve the site’s facilities. One offered to volunteer at the school. They were pleased to learn there would be no more than 200 students and almost all would be arriving and departing by buses. All portable classrooms would be removed, parent traffic would be eliminated, and there would be no night or weekend activities. 

As an educator, I believe all children deserve every chance to become successful. This is the purpose of alternative education; to help students make good decisions and become the best they can be. Let’s move forward and embrace this program. 

Carl Persis

Volusia County School Board District 4 representative

MY VIEW: School District defends community meeting

Volusia County Schools recently held a community meeting at the former Osceola Elementary site, where the Riverview Learning Center, an alternative school, will transfer next year.

The meeting was well attended and lasted an hour longer than scheduled as VCS staff worked to ensure every community member had an opportunity to have their voices heard and questions answered.

This meeting followed the same format as rezoning meetings that took place this year. Guests were asked to write questions on cards, ensuring even those who did not want to speak aloud would be heard. All questions were answered, unless they were a duplicate. Remaining questions were taken out loud, and additional feedback could be left on comment cards.

At this meeting, staff answered many questions and provided information, such as:

  • A cumulative total of 196 students attended Riverview last year, and the highest one-day daily enrollment was around 120 students.
  • The most common types of referrals that qualify a student to attend Riverview include vaping, social media threats, and fighting.
  • Riverview is not a Department of Juvenile Justice facility. Children who attend DJJ facilities commit serious offenses, stay longer and are usually placed on off-campus instruction when released or until charges are resolved.

Community members were given an equal chance to voice their opinion, whether they were sharing questions, concerns, or positive experiences, such as how visiting the current Riverview site eased their feelings. Each question or comment gave VCS an opportunity to hear and value the voices of all, no matter their opinion.

As a VCS policy, guests were not required to give their addresses at this meeting, nor are they required to do so at School Board meetings. Those who spoke in support of Riverview shared they lived in Ormond Beach or near the current Riverview site.

Residents with operations or maintenance concerns are being contacted directly to address any issues. One concern addressed was a loud AC unit that will be replaced this summer.

We will continue to welcome and answer questions from the community:

  • How many elementary students will be added?: We anticipate 5-20 will come to the new campus.
  • How will the younger and older kids be separated?: They will be in separate buildings and classes.
  • What will be the capacity once two buildings are demolished and portables removed?: The capacity would be around 236 students; however, the most we had at one time was around 120.

Some guests voiced that their concern was not with the children. If all who agreed with these comments still feel this way, VCS asks the community to work together with us to ensure adult problems and underlying political motives do not interfere with the education of these children. We are committed to keeping an open dialogue with the Osceola community moving forward. To all who expressed interest in getting involved — and to those who didn’t have the opportunity — we welcome you to engage and participate in shaping the future of students at Riverview Learning Center, whether you can volunteer, mentor a student, or otherwise offer your time and talent to help change a life.

Volusia County Schools


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