Educator first tapped for Seminole superintendent job calls search a ‘fiasco’

Orlando Sentinel | by Leslie Postal | March 11, 2021

Chad Farnsworth, tapped for the Seminole County superintendent job last month only to see the School Board reverse itself and choose someone else, said the process was a “fiasco” he watched in “disbelief,” and he has no more interest in the position.

But for weeks, he kept quiet, determined to remain “thoroughly professional,” he said. Then he viewed Tuesday’s Seminole County School Board meeting online and was angry when a staff member shared what he called incorrect information about his time as superintendent for the Bradford County school district.

In response, he sent a letter Wednesday to the school board asking it to “cease and desist misrepresenting my past” in what he viewed as an after-the-fact effort to justify the decision to yank away a job offer made to him on Feb. 9.

“I no longer have an interest in the position of Superintendent of Seminole County Public Schools,” he wrote, telling the board he hoped it could “move forward in a professional manner,” which its students, staff and residents deserved.

The staff member shared findings from old audits in Bradford, Farnsworth said, that were related to financial issues he inherited and worked to correct but were presented as a mark on his record. The person also noted auditor findings about how Bradford handled student enrollment and teacher assignments. Farnsworth said those were “nitpicked findings” similar to ones Seminole has had in its own audits.

The board voted March 1 to hire Serita Beamon, its attorney, as superintendent. She and Farnsworth were the two finalists the board interviewed to replace Superintendent Walt Griffin, who is retiring this spring.

Farnsworth, an assistant superintendent in Lake County, said the discussion Tuesday was unfair and “very disappointing.” If the board decided it didn’t want to hire him, it should not incorrectly suggest the decision was made because it had uncovered something, he added.

The process, he said, “turned into a fiasco” and one that is embarrassing to the district.

Karen Almond, chair of the Seminole school board, said Wednesday she had received Farnsworth’s letter but did not want to comment on it or the controversy surrounding the district’s superintendent search.

Farnsworth, 43, spent most of his career in Bradford, working as a teacher, assistant principal and then serving one term as an elected superintendent. He has worked in Lake since 2017, where he wrote he is “proud to stay and serve.”

After the Seminole board selected him on Feb. 9, Farnsworth said he reviewed his proposed employment contract, attended a meeting with hundreds of Seminole principals and assistant principals and even had his photo taken for a Seminole school identification badge.

He was excited, he added, “ready to work with everybody” and eager to “continue their legacy of success.”

Then, at the Feb. 23 meeting, which he attended to begin learning the ins and outs of his new job, the board voted to take back its decision.

The five-member board never reached a unanimous decision on who would be best as superintendent, voting 3-2 to hire Farnsworth, then 3-2 to rescind that vote and then 3-2 to hire Beamon. Board member Tina Calderone was the swing vote, favoring Farnsworth at first, then proposing the first vote be rescinded and then voting for Beamon.

The flip-flopping has mired Central Florida’s best-performing school district in controversy, with the qualifications and the race of both candidates debated. A lawsuit filed last week against the school board last week argued it violated its own procedures when it voted to rescind Farnsworth’s appointment. That case is still pending.

Photo: Chad Farnsworth, left, and Serita Beamon were finalists for the superintendents job in the Seminole County school district. The board chose Farnsworth first and then switched and tapped Beamon. (Courtesy photo)

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