Miami Herald | By Jimena Tavel | October 26, 2022
The Broward County School Board refrained from firing Superintendent Vickie Cartwright Tuesday night, and instead voted unanimously to reprimand her on a long list of issues and ordered her to provide a progress report in 90 days.
The special board meeting that stretched deep into the night started with a myriad of public comments and turned emotional toward the end, with three of the board’s four women and the board’s student adviser strongly supporting Broward’s first female superintendent.
“I get that it may not be what everyone wanted, but one, it shows that the board collectively is listening. The board collectively is also doing its oversight role, and we’re also giving room to the superintendent to demonstrate additional action based on all of the comments that we heard from the board,” said School Board Chair Torey Alston, one of five board members — all men — appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis this year.
DeSantis appointed Alston and three others in August when he removed four sitting board members, all elected by Broward residents, after a statewide grand jury report recommended their removal. The grand jury, which did not indict any of the board members, blamed them for a school renovation bond program that has ballooned to more than $1 billion.
Alston will stay on the board through 2024. The other four board members appointed by DeSantis — Ryan Reiter, Manuel “Nandy” Serrano, Kevin Tynan and Daniel Foganholi — will be off the board next month, following the Nov. 8 election. Three of the four —Reiter, Serrano and Tynan —were appointed by DeSantis in August, which was too late for them to qualify for the November ballot.
DeSantis appointed Foganholi in April; he chose not to run.
SOME CALLS FOR HER DISMISSAL
For more than four hours Tuesday, board members reviewed Cartwright’s record and voiced concerns; some outright calling for her dismissal. Around 9:20 p.m., they ended the marathon session by tasking her to write a detailed memo about what was discussed and send it to board members by Friday. They instructed her to use that document as an action plan for the next three months.
The School Board unanimously hired Cartwright as interim superintendent last July. That support held strong through February, when the board voted 8-1 to keep Cartwright, 52, as the permanent executive of the sixth-largest school district in the nation and the second largest in the state, serving more than 260,000 students and employing more than 30,000. Cartwright is the first female superintendent in the district’s 107-year history.
But DeSantis’ removal of the four board members led Cartwright’s popularity to falter. On Sept. 15, the chair of the Florida Board of Education asked whether the board could suspend Cartwright.
Alston sparked the conversation Tuesday by adding a vague agenda item to discuss the “direction of the school district.” He attached a one-page list of 15 complaints regarding Cartwright’s leadership skills.
Alston’s grievances included Cartwright’s lack of strategy to help the nearly 119,000 under-performing students impacted by the pandemic and to address the district’s student enrollment decline. He also condemned her for what he said was playing politics, dividing the community, failing to communicate well with the board and not addressing the grand jury recommendations fast enough.open_discussion_and_action
“This discussion today is not partisan to me,” he said at the beginning.
Ahead of the Tuesday meeting, Cartwright provided a 48-page detailed rebuttal to Alston’s charges.
She argued the 119,000 figure double-counted students because it included those scoring low in either English, language arts or mathematics. In response to the district’s enrollment decline, she pointed to the declining number of children, ages zero to 4, in the county. She explained how she has heeded the grand jury report and got rid of three district staffers cited in the report.
She defended her presence at community events, mentioned “board communication has significantly increased” and on the politics point, she said she’s allowed to talk individually to board members.cartwrights-response-to-alstons-criticism
3 OF 4 WOMEN MEMBERS SUPPORT CARTWRIGHT
Of the four members who will leave in a few weeks, at least one didn’t think the short time period prevented them from impacting the school district on the way out.
“I think she’s a great leader; I just don’t think that she’s the right leader for Broward County,” Foganholi said.
Tynan and Serrano both said they felt “conflicted.”
Reiter quoted the Gospel and spoke about his faith, saying he joined the school district because he wanted to help and found more problems than he expected. He said he worried if the board fired Cartwright, it would create chaos, likely be reversed by a new board and turn off potential superintendent candidates in the future.
“In 28 days, a new board comes in and reverses everything that we’ve done — what does that do?” he said.
Three of the four elected board members — Nora Rupert, Debra Hixon and Sarah Leonardi — supported her staying. Board Vice Chair Lori Alhadeff did not support Cartwright strongly.
“The superintendent has done what she can in the short time that she has been here to make amends,” Hixon said. “We are not perfect. The system is not perfect. We can, we should do better, and we must do better, but it doesn’t lay at one person’s feet.”
“This superintendent for me is at the right place in the right time, and with some little bit of encouragement from us, some changes, I think we’ll be fine here in the district,” Rupert said.
Leonardi defended Cartwright, countering Alston’s list point-by-point and repeatedly saying “not true.”
She also noted how she had received a call from the principal of Fort Lauderdale High School, where a student died by jumping off the roof of a school building earlier this month. The principal praised Cartwright for being there for her and for the students, Leonardi said.
“Dr. Cartwright is one of the least political people I know,” she said. “Is communication perfect? Absolutely not. This is another item that takes time to improve, and I genuinely believe the superintendent is taking steps to do that,” she added.
“This whole country is divided — are we to blame her for those divisions?” she contended.
Jorge Altuna, the board’s student adviser, sided with Rupert, Leonardi and Hixon, and pleaded for the board to keep Cartwright on as superintendent.
“I think that maintaining Dr. Cartwright as our leader will allow us to focus again on student achievement,” he said. “We are only in the second quarter of this school year.”