Michael Cunningham with his wife, Jo-Anne, and their two children, Eagan and Ainsley.

For the past two years, Michael Cunningham has been pondering throwing his hat in the political ring, and he’s finally concluded he has two good reasons to give it a go.

Eagan and Ainsley Cunningham are third and first grade students at Poinciana Elementary in Key West, and their father said the only way to ensure they receive the highest quality education is to serve on the Monroe County School Board.

Michael Cunningham with his wife, Jo-Anne, and their two children, Eagan and Ainsley.

“Over the past four years, the board has been in crisis management,” he noted of his intent. “There’ve been five superintendents over the last 10 years, which means there’s been lots of instability and change. Each of them has had a different philosophy to which teacher and administration have to adapt. We need a strong vision for educating our students.

Following the hiring of internal auditor Ken Gentile, Cunningham said the board should continue to concentrate on running the school system, which operates as a business, in an efficient manner.

“The priority in the past has been on education or business, and I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive,” he noted. “I’ve seen skilled staff and teachers who put their hearts and souls into their work not empowered. We also need to look at establishing higher standards for each position across the district.”

Cunningham’s been at the helm of Florida Keys Area Health Education Center for the past 10 years and working in conjunction with service providers to guarantee a healthy student population through classroom programs and partnerships. Healthier kids, he noted, are proven to do better in school and achieve higher test scores.

If elected to the District 3 School Board seat, Cunningham said he’ll refer back to a lesson learned while negotiating contracts for the Department of Health.

“My boss used to always used to ask if it was cheaper to make it or buy it,” he recalled. “I think there may be some opportunities to combine services with the cities and county.”

He also referred to partnership currently in place with the Key West Fire Department in which firefighters are working directly with enrolled high school students potentially interested in the field.

“We need to look at where the jobs are to promote programs that prepare kids for future careers,” Cunningham said. “We need to prepare them for what they’re going to do when they leave the school system. Not everyone goes to college.”

With regard to the January 31 referendum in which voters will decide on whether or not to transfer a half-mill tax from the capital fund to the general fund, Cunningham added that there needs to be a reevaluation of programs to reduce inefficiencies across the district.

“Cutting $10+ million from the budget would not work toward providing the best education.”


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