‘A circus’: Broward School Board scrambles to onboard superintendent. Is it political?

Miami Herald | By Jimena Tavel | June 29, 2023

Five minutes after starting a School Board meeting on Thursday, Broward Schools’ interim superintendent abruptly ended it because not enough board members were present, delaying the start date of the newly hired superintendent — and eliciting head scratches and accusations of political motives.

In the absence of board Chair Lori Alhadeff and Vice Chair Debra Hixon, Interim Superintendent Earlean Smiley called the board’s meeting to order at about 9 a.m. and adjourned it shortly after because only three School Board members — Allen Zeman, Jeff Holness and Sarah Leonardi — were at the dais.

According to the board’s bylaws, five board members need to be physically present to constitute a quorum and carry out official business.

Three other board members — Nora Rupert, Alhadeff and Hixon — called in. John Sullivan, a spokesman for the school district, said he was connecting a fourth member, Brenda Fam, through a phone call as well as the meeting ended.

The remaining two board members, Daniel Foganholi and Torey Alston — both appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to their seats — didn’t call in or show up.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida – June 29, 2023 – Broward School Board member Dr. Steve Holness sits at his desk waiting for the meeting where the board will vote on the contract with the new superintendent to start. The meeting was adjourned because there was no quorum. The meeting was held at the Kathleen C. Wright Building 600 Southeast Third Avenue, Fort Lauderdale. Jose A. Iglesias

It’s unknown when the meeting will take place now, but Smiley said she would do her best to do it as early as possible. Peter Licata, the incoming superintendent, was set to start Monday. It’s unknown when he’ll officially join now. The board was scheduled to approve Licata’s contract Thursday.

The snag comes two weeks ago after the board voted 7-2 to hire Licata as the new superintendent, and it raises concerns about whether the sixth largest school district in the country, which has been embroiled in turmoil for the past year, can get a fresh start with him.

At the June 15 meeting, Alston and Fam voted against Licata. Foganholi tried to steer the board to extend the search instead of hiring him, but ultimately voted in favor of him.


“I’m very frustrated,” Smiley said, speaking after the meeting.

The School Board scheduled Thursday’s meeting about two weeks ago during its last meeting, in which members officially hired Licata, a South Region Superintendent for the School District of Palm Beach County.

At the time, Alhadeff, Hixon and Rupert warned they wouldn’t attend Thursday’s meeting in person because of vacations. But Smiley said after the meeting she didn’t worry about postponing it because six members would be there. Then two days ago, Alston told her he couldn’t attend in person either.

Still, Smiley said she trusted five members would come to the Fort Lauderdale building for the meeting. But then only three showed up.

For his part, Sullivan said Fam texted him 10:16 Wednesday night saying she would call in. It’s unclear if Fam told anybody else about her plan.

“This is not how you run a mature organization and it is not the will of the School Board to have done what we did today,” Zeman said after the meeting.


After the meeting, Leonardi said she felt “disappointed.”

“There was a commitment by people stating that they would be able to be here today — not the three individuals who had let us know in the previous meeting that they wouldn’t be there — so I think everyone was operating under the assumption that people were staying true to their word that they’d be here today,” she said.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida – June 29, 2023 – Broward School Board members Sarah M. Leonardi, left and Interim Superintendent Dr. Earlean C. Smiley, right, talk after Dr. Smiley adjourned a special meeting of the Broward School Board because there was no quorum. The board was due to vote on the contract with the new superintendent. Jose A. Iglesias
Read more at: https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/education/article276840891.html#storylink=cpy

Regarding their motives, Leonardi said: “I can’t speculate what the intentions of my colleagues were. I just know that Dr. Licata is going to rise above the circus that happened today and get our district back on track.”

Anna Fusco, the president of the Broward Teachers Union, worried about the three last-minute absences being politically motivated.

“Unless there is a serious personal reason, I don’t understand why they weren’t here,” she said. “With those three it’s always going to be politics. … I don’t know what’s being planned. There’s always something that groups are planning because they want their agenda fulfilled. That’s my theory, not a conspiracy theory — that’s a proven track record here.”


Reached Thursday via text message, Fam said she had a medical procedure done recently, and because of the “status of her pain and recovery” Wednesday night, she chose to call in.

Asked whether the busted meeting was political, she said: “No political motive whatsoever that I have been made aware. Poor planning.”

Alston wrote in a text message his schedules this week and next “were always questionable.” He didn’t respond to a question about whether his absence was political.

“I look forward to the rescheduled meeting where the entire board will be in person, which should be the case on a big item as approving the Superintendent’s contract,” he said.

Foganholi didn’t respond to a request for comment Thursday.

The Sun Sentinel reported his secretary sent an email at 7:09 a.m. Thursday to board members that read: “Mr. Foganholi is out of town and will not be able to attend today’s Board meeting or participate in the vote.”


Licata said he found out 17 minutes before the meeting began that there would be no quorum. Had he known earlier, he said his wife wouldn’t have flown on a red-eye flight to be there for his big day. He felt bad, he said, for his wife and for Smiley, who had to postpone the return to her retirement.

Asked whether the unexpected absentees felt political, Licata said he only thinks of the students.

“There’s a lot of folks saying this and that, this and that,” he said. “I don’t subscribe to any of that. We’re just going to move forward. This just delays what the inevitable is. … You all can make those assumptions and go with that. My job is to stay focused.”

Asked whether the first taste of the Broward school district prompted any second thoughts about accepting the role, he said no because he doesn’t “scare very easily.”

“People who love to ride roller coasters are happy to get on them.”

Share With:
Rate This Article