The Daytona Beach News-Journal | By Nikki Ross | May 11, 2022
The Volusia County School Board unanimously agreed to offer its vacant superintendent position to former Deputy Superintendent Carmen Balgobin.
The three-year contract includes negotiable terms that will be decided at a special meeting at 5 p.m. on May 17. However, the board agreed Tuesday night not to exceed 3% above the former superintendent’s contract, which included a $205,000 salary plus benefits.
Balgobin did not attend the meeting and, as of Wednesday afternoon, hadn’t yet accepted the offer.
Balgobin, 50, formerly served as deputy superintendent for teaching, leading and learning for the Volusia County School District starting in 2020. She left that position in March for a better-paying position as deputy superintendent of teaching and learning at Broward County Schools.
School Board Member Carl Persis immediately moved to appoint Balgobin as superintendent with Board Member Linda Cuthbert seconding the motion.
Changes to the agenda
Board members Jamie Haynes and Anita Burnette said they believe the board failed when it came to changing the agenda last week. The initial agenda was posted May 3, but Balgobin’s appointment wasn’t added until May 5.
“We need to do a better job with following our policies,” Burnette said, stating she wanted Balgobin to speak to the public about why she left the district in March. “We created a lot of controversy in the community and we put her at a disadvantage changing the agenda like we did.”
Volusia County Teacher’s Union President Elizabeth Albert commented on how this isn’t the first time something has been added to the school board’s agenda after it was initially posted.
“This just doesn’t make sense,” Albert said of the superintendent discussion. “This has caused a significant disruption. This is a violation of the policy and I think it should be removed … I don’t think the board should take action tonight.”
Colón said the item was on the agenda Tuesday, but he changed the wording to be more clear.
“Are we going to let that cost us a superintendent?” he asked.
Former Director of Human Resources Rachel Hazel, who was unanimously appointed interim superintendent on April 12 immediately following the board’s decision to terminate Scott Fritz in a 3-2 vote, said she would be “thrilled” to serve with Balgobin. Her $205,000 contract was approved at the April 26 board meeting. She will resume her previous post once the district hires a permanent superintendent.
“From my experiences with her … she’s smart, kind and a champion for students,” Hazel said. “I have absolutely nothing but respect for her both personally and professionally.”
Stakeholders comment on hiring decision
Of the six people who spoke during public comment, two, including former school board member Ida Wright, supported Balgobin’s immediate appointment.
“She has shown great leadership skills, she’s passionate and she loves Volusia County,” Wright said.
Daisy Grimes, assistant to Bethune-Cookman University’s vice president, said at the end of the day, it’s the board’s job to do what is best for the students, not what the public, staff or parents want the board to do.
“I am happy you’ve made the decision to bring her back,” Grimes said. “You’ll save us some tax dollars bringing her back; she worked on the strategic plan while another superintendent might come in, not like it, and change the strategic plan.”
When former superintendent Fritz took a medical leave of absence for seven months in 2020 and 2021, Balgobin became interim superintendent. When Fritz resumed the top job, Balgobin returned to her deputy post.
But the other four speakers — including teachers and the teacher’s union president — voiced concerns over Balgobin’s ties to Fritz, the lack of process when it came to appointing a new superintendent, and community wariness of Balgobin.
Albert said the decision Tuesday sent a “very strong message” to employees on whether or not the board valued their input.
“There will forever be a connection between Balgobin and Fritz,” Albert said, noting that Balgobin’s departure from the district was abrupt and without explanation. “How can you bring her back to an environment that won’t be open to her? You would be disadvantaging her by appointing her now.”
Colón said the board did not know why Balgobin left the district and that if the public wanted to know, they would need to ask her. He added the public would have the opportunity to do so in the future.
“Some would argue yeah she left, but she’s been serving as a mentor to Hazel and making sure she knew what was going on,” Colón said. “Dr. Balgobin has experience and, more importantly, experience here in Volusia County.”
Colón said many of the positive changes that came during Fritz’s time in the district could be credited to Balgobin.
“I thought she came with Dr. Fritz. That is not the case,” Colón said. “I’ve worked with both and it’s night and day.”
Karen Weinrich, second-grade teacher at Spruce Creek Elementary, said the board should advertise the position, give others the chance to apply and get input from the community before offering someone the position.
“Dr. Balgobin may be the best for the job, but unless the process is done correctly, she’ll have a tough job ahead of her,” Weinrich said.
Scott Cleary, teacher for Volusia Online Learning, said hiring Balgobin would be a “cataclysmic error.”
“When she was interim superintendent, communication was murky at best with parents and teachers flying blind,” he said. “Dr. Balgobin may be a great superintendent, but not here and not now.”
Shane Story, ESE Teacher at David C. Hinson Sr. Middle School, said he didn’t want to attend the meeting Tuesday night but felt like he had to speak out.
“We are focusing on triage, not systemic change,” he said about Balgobin’s hasty appointment. “We are constantly repairing but not preparing.”
Haynes said no matter what the board does, someone isn’t going to be happy.
“There’s no perfect person out there, but there’s someone who has a home here, who is already committed here,” Haynes said of Balgobin. “What I know tonight is she’s the right person at this point in time.”