October 25, 2022
By the end of today, Broward County Public Schools superintendent Vickie L. Cartwright may be out of a job. In what is sure to be a contentious meeting, members of the board are likely to move against the superintendent, leaving the nation’s sixth-largest school district without a permanent leader for the second time in less than a year.
Ms. Cartwright, who was interim superintendent from Aug. 2, 2021 to Feb. 24, 2022, when she officially became the permanent superintendent, has been the subject of criticism from board members, especially from five particular members.
Following the resignation of Rosalind Osgood and the suspension of four other members after the release of a damning grand jury report, Republican Gov. Ron had an unprecedented opportunity to fill five out of the board’s nine seats. He took full advantage of the opportunity, installing right-wing allies, shifting the board from nine elected members to only having four.
These new members, apparently not realizing their lack of a mandate from the people they ostensibly serve, used their numerical superiority to outvote the four elected members during a special school board meeting last Tuesday, when they voted to disregard Ms. Cartwright’s generally positive evaluations. This vote is more symbolic than anything else, but it does serve as a harbinger of what is to come.
Troublingly, four out of the ‘Forceful Five’ are going to be leaving office shortly after their successors are elected this November in highly competitive races. This means that their actions, which will have an impact felt for years to come, will come from unelected, unaccountable members who are rushing to do as much damage as possible before their brief terms run out.
“There’s no reason to speed through removal before a new board comes in within the next three weeks,” said Steven Julian, a candidate running against a deranged QAnon supporter (a Stop the Steal-style fear-mongering Republican ploy who recently attacked children for participating in the civic process) to replace current board member Manuel Serrano.
Some of the Five do not even have any experience in education. Take member Manuel Serrano, who represents District 6, including Weston, Davie, Sunrise, Plantation and Cooper City, for example. In his official school board biography, which one would think would play up any connections to B.C.P.S., he talks about his career in wealth management, his sports career, some charity work and makes a passing reference to his kids. There is no reference to anything B.C.P.S. connections because Mr. Serrano has none.
Today, the Forceful Five may vote to remove Ms. Cartwright from her job, plunging the district into greater turmoil. All of the Forceful Five were appointed to their seats after Ms. Cartwright became the permanent superintendent. The board that appointed her is now mostly gone.
Now, Ms. Cartwright has made some poor judgments in her brief tenure. She took about 180 school administrators to a conference in the Naples Ritz-Carlton (not in Broward County), costing taxpayers an estimated $100,000. At the very least, this event could have been held at a less swanky venue and located in the county where she and those administrators educate tomorrow’s leaders – and where the school district’s tax dollars come from.
“You have to inspect what you expect to make sure she’s really doing the job,” up to par, said Mr. Julian. “If you don’t have a system and you don’t put accountability in place, you’re not going to get the results you want.”
The Five are also focusing on her decisions in the summer of 2021, when the deadly Delta variant ended ‘hot vax summer’ with a surge in infections and deaths before vaccines had been approved for many small children. At the time, Ms. Cartwright was serving as interim superintendent and complied with the school board’s unanimous vote to require masks, defying Mr. DeSantis’s executive order forbidding such actions.
They also have criticized Ms. Cartwright for not acting fast enough to discipline officials implicated in the grand jury report. However, this is not true, since less than a month after the report came out, she forced the resignation or retirement of three top officials, less than a week after directed to do so by the state. One has to be careful when forcing out key officials and Ms. Cartwright was just proceeding with appropriate caution and followed the state’s own guidance.
Ms. Cartwright’s actions likely saved many children from falling ill and saved lives. Other districts with no mask mandates across the country ended up having serious issues, so bad that they actually had to return to Zoom schooling due to extremely high infection numbers.
The fallout from Ms. Cartwright’s possible removal may bring significant harm to B.C.P.S. Removing a superintendent after less than a year on the job, blaming her for systemic issues when she has not even had a full school year to address them, would dissuade potential candidates to serve as superintendent from seeking the job, since there would be virtually no job security.
Worse, there would be no replacement waiting in the wings. There is no plan of action at all. It took half a year to fully replace her predecessor, Robert Runcie. Now, it is almost guaranteed that B.C.P.S. will be plunged into rudderless confusion for an even longer term, especially since B.C.P.S. is so large.
“Honestly, it will take a very specific type of individual that has knowledge and experience in this large business and school administration. There’s maybe 10 to 20 in the country that are qualified for the position,” said Mr. Julian.
It would also be expensive to remove Ms. Cartwright. She has a sizable severance package in her contract, which the school district is obligated to pay out.
In effect, the taxpayers of Broward County would be paying for the wishes of the Forceful Five.
The actions of the Forceful Five are antidemocratic and completely ignore the will of the people. If the people want the superintendent removed, they should elect school board members who promise to do so. Elections are rapidly approaching. However, unelected, lame duck political appointees should not try to railroad the parents, students and teachers of Broward County towards an outcome so controversial.
The Old Davie School in Davie, Florida. Charles Horowitz for Policy Reform Now and edited by Michael Horowitz
By Charles Horowitz
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