As Miami schools’ chief auditor retires, one School Board member floats familiar name

Miami Herald | by Colleen Wright | April 7, 2021

The chief auditor of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Maria T. Gonzalez, is retiring this summer at the end of her three-year contract. In the first meeting held to begin the process of finding her successor, one School Board member gave a familiar name.

Board member Lubby Navarro opened Wednesday’s special School Board meeting recommending Iraida Mendez-Cartaya, the former intergovernmental affairs chief who left the district in January. Mendez-Cartaya said she left her 31-year career at the district for work-life balance, taking a $20,000 pay cut to serve as chief of staff to Miami-Dade County Commissioner Rene Garcia.

“And that person, in my view, that we should consider and the audit and budget advisory committee should consider is Iraida Mendez-Cartaya,” she said, adding that she also took issue with the short timeline to select a replacement.

Iraida Mendez-Cartaya photo.jpg
Iraida Mendez-Cartaya

On Wednesday, the School Board did not meet to discuss potential successors but rather to approve logistics. They directed Gonzalez to prepare an exit report on the role and scope of her job and related matters, and requested and advised the district’s Audit and Budget Advisory Committee to hold a special meeting to recommend an interim chief auditor and lay groundwork for the search process for the next chief auditor.

The Audit and Budget Advisory Committee will meet at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday. The chief auditor is selected by and reports to the School Board. In a January interview, Mendez-Cartaya said Superintendent Alberto Carvalho is “like a brother to me.”

Before Gonzalez was chosen to be chief auditor in 2018, Mendez-Cartaya served as the interim auditor. Gonzalez was selected out of three candidates, the other internal candidate being Jon Goodman, currently the district’s assistant chief auditor.

Gonzalez said Goodman is part of her succession management plan.

Gonzalez’s current salary is $169,744. Before she left, Mendez-Cartaya made $180,813.

Navarro emphasized the district’s responsibility of being stewards over the $1.1 billion in federal stimulus money coming to the district. The school district’s cut is $850 million after sharing funding with charter and private schools.

“I don’t want to see this board implicated in any misuse of federal dollars,” she said, adding that Mendez-Cartaya has experience working with federal entitlement grants and has numerous clean federal single audits.

School Board Vice Chair Steve Gallon said Navarro’s “personal recommendations” comments were “out of order.”

Board member Marta Perez backed up Navarro. Perez, who represents the board on the Council of Great City Schools, said representatives from other large school districts are also concerned about being criticized over handling large federal checks.

“I do not think that my colleague was out of order because, of course, I mean, board members talk and talk and repeat. Each one of us is free to express ourselves,” Perez said. “I think that the name that was given is an exceptional name.”

Gallon then said he wanted to “publicly apologize for anyindividuals who have worked, sacrificed, given their time” who may be interested in the chief auditor job.

“We have a process in place, and some of the commentary totally dismisses other individuals who really may be interested in this job,” he said. “Some people can perceive it’s a foregone conclusion. …There are no guarantees but at least they can have confidence in the process. At least a fair, transparent and opportunistic process.”

He also called out Navarro to forget “who I like, who I’ve known, who’s my former boss.” Navarro previously worked under Mendez-Cartaya.

Navarro said Gallon had deliberately misinterpreted her words.

Reached by phone after the meeting, Mendez-Cartaya and Navarro both said they had not spoken to each other about the chief auditor opportunity.

Mendez-Cartaya said she received a few texts from district employees asking if she was watching the board’s meeting. She said she was aware that Gonzalez was retiring.

“I’d consider opportunities for professional growth,” she said. “The school district was home for almost 32 years so it’s something to look at. I never close doors to opportunities.”

Navarro said the board will follow the process of advertising the position and encouraged people to apply.

“If you find me someone else who is more qualified than her who has had the experience and who has done the job, let’s entertain that person,” she said. “She’s the only person that immediately came to mind that I felt had the knowledge. It would be seamless.”

Gonzalez has worked for the school district since 1993. She held back tears as she thanked the School Board for the opportunity. She gave her notice on March 18 and her last official day is June 21.

Board member Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall recalled when she interviewed Gonzalez for the job.

“You had me when you walked in the door with your smile,” she said. “You have done an awesome job in your capacity.”

Featured image: The Miami-Dade County School Board is beginning the search for a new chief auditor. ALEX HARRIS AHARRIS@MIAMIHERALD.COM

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