Byron Donalds Does Not Support School Board Candidate Kelly Lichter, Endorsed by Collier County GOP

By Lydia Nusbaum, Florida's Voice

September 14, 2022 Updated 10:20 AM ET

U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds (left, Gage Skidmore), Collier County School Board Candidate Kelly Lichter (right).
U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds (left, Gage Skidmore), Collier County School Board Candidate Kelly Lichter (right).

COLLIER COUNTY (FLV) – U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds, a popular Republican figure in Southwest Florida, does not support Collier County School Board Candidate Kelly Lichter, even though the Collier County Republican Executive Committee endorsed her.

Kelly Lichter is in a runoff against incumbent Jen Mitchell in District 3. Lichter has experience working with special needs children and taught U.S. History, Economics, and Government.

“Is Kelly conservative? Yes,” Donalds said. “But is she somebody that can actually lead and be in charge? No. I think that she is highly emotional, she does not use sound judgement, she’s incredibly defensive, and she’s very unprofessional.”

Lichter previously served as a Collier County School Board member with Erika Donalds who is the congressman’s wife from 2014 to 2018. A Naples Daily News report describes Lichter as one who was “frequently engaged in shouting matches during board meetings, prompting negative feedback from education advocates.”

“We’ve been down this road before in Collier County,” Donalds said. “Her behavior, in my opinion, in my view, cost us a majority that was right there in front of us in 2016.”

On the other hand, the Collier County Republican Executive Committee endorsed Lichter in May after a three-month-long evaluation of the three Republican candidates in the race.

“Kelly is a proven educational leader who has earned our endorsement because she supports Republican values,” said Collier GOP chairman Frank Schwerin. “She has the experience and tenacity to advocate for parental rights (including school choice) and defend our young students from leftist and Marxist political indoctrination.”

In response to the endorsement, Lichter said she is encouraged by the support for her campaign.

“I know my vision and track record are giving voters the confidence that I have the courage, commitment and credibility to transform our schools and correct the course of public education in Collier County,” she said.

Lichter is the founder and president of Mason Classical Academy. She has filed a lawsuit against several individuals including Erika Donalds and her non-profit called Optima Foundation, which manages nonprofit charter schools. Congressman Donalds said the lawsuit is another reason he does not support Lichter.

The lawsuit alleges that “despite Mason Classical Academy’s stellar academic and financial performance,” the plaintiffs have been the “targets of a relentless, ongoing conspiracy carried out by individuals, officials, and entities with considerable political and economic power on the local, state, and national level.”

The suit said there was a “seditious scheme to seize control” of the academy with a goal to expand Hillsdale College’s Barney Charter School Initiative.

“I will not be bullied by a sitting U.S. Congressman who is blatantly retaliating against a charter school and private citizens for exercising their First Amendment rights,” Lichter told Florida’s Voice in an email when asked about Congressman Donalds’ comments.

“Our lawsuit speaks for itself and clearly has the Congressman and his wife worried.”

In response, Erika Donalds said she is not worried about the lawsuit she calls “frivolous” and filed “in a form of harassment,” while saying parents and former employees are being sued for wanting a change in leadership.

“When their sole issue was that these parents and former employees were wanting a change to the board leadership in the same way that the Republican Party and Ms. Lichter herself are trying to make a change to the school board leadership of CCPS right now,” Erika Donalds said. “Can you imagine if the school board, CCPS, sued the parents of your county for wanting a change in the board? Because that’s exactly what is happening in these lawsuits.”

Erika Donalds said she and her husband have never sued anyone and believes she has a track record of good business practice, ethics and integrity.

“On the other hand, this charter school led by Ms. Lichter is involved in numerous lawsuits with I don’t even know how many entities, individuals, parents, former employees, former board members, the business relationships,” Erika Donalds said. “And I think that speaks for itself.”

A Naples Daily News 2019 story details the outcome of a yearlong investigation into allegations of mismanagement at Mason Classical Academy. A Collier County school district 60-page report recommended Kelly Lichter and two other MCA board members resign. In response to the 60-page report, the MCA board of directors said they had an issue with a school district dictating who can serve or work for a private charter school. MCA later released a report by lawyers they hired which Lichter said “exonerates” the school from allegations of mismanagement.

Hillsdale College severed ties with Mason Classical Academy in July of 2019 after the members did not resign. The Optima Foundation, which Erika Donalds founded, helped launch Hillsdale College Barney Charter School Initiative classical academies across Florida.

Florida’s Voice emailed and called Lichter to ask if she wanted to provide any additional comments to the statements from Erika Donalds and previous Naples Daily News stories. Lichter provided us with a recommendation from United States Magistrate Judge Nicholas Mizell filed on Aug. 22, 2022.

The judge recommended that without prejudice to either party’s ability to prosecute or defend, former Mason Classical Academy Principal Pamela Vickaryous’s request for temporary reinstatement be denied. Vickaryous claimed MCA terminated her employment in retaliation for refusing to take action against a whistleblower.

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