Flagler School Board votes against renewing Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt’s contract

The Daytona Beach News-Journal | By Brenno Carillo | Updated April 5, 2023

In a 3-2 vote that the school board chairman called “100% political,” the Flagler School Board opposed renewing Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt’s contract, which ends June 30.

School board members Sally Hunt, Will Furry and Christy Chong voted against the renewal, while Board Chair Cheryl Massaro and board member Colleen Conklin voted to approve it.

Several residents attended the school board’s special meeting Tuesday night, the vast majority of whom encouraged the board to keep Mittelstadt in her post, where she has been for the past two and a half years.

Chong and Furry were both endorsed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis during last year’s school board election.

Furry addressed allegations of collusion when sharing his comments prior to the vote.

“Everything has been in the Sunshine (state law),” Furry said. “Everything that we talked about has been here in front of you … Individual conversation between board members, that’s a different story, but the board here, we have had no collusion to come to this decision.”

Furry said that the superintendent’s evaluation and the decision to renew her contract are two different situations.

“One may lend to the other, but they are two separate things,” Furry said. “The evaluation is only one part of it. There are many things to consider when extending the contract of any employee.”

Furry explained his reasons for opposing the renewal in his evaluation of Mittelstadt’s performance, which the district made public prior to the meeting.

In it, he expressed concerns over the district’s academic performance and what he argued was Mittelstadt’s infrequent visits to district schools.

Many of Furry’s reasons echoed what members Hunt and Chong wrote in their evaluations.

“I know the word ‘stability’ has come up a lot in the last few weeks,” Chong said during Tuesday’s meeting. “There has not been stability in our district. We have had a lot of turnover and staff changes.”

Hunt addressed the recent criticism she has faced from members of the community she called “friends,” some of whom she said she lost during her time on the board.

“I am a nonpartisan elected official in this community,” Hunt said. “I am talking with people. I am here tonight as an elected official. I am looking at things like innovation, like leadership, courage. I have, in every single interaction with Mrs. Mittelstadt since Aug. 30, we are in constant state of evaluating her. This is a really big decision that I have taken very seriously.”

Flagler School Board chair and Conklin urge members to reconsider

Conklin encouraged the three board members opposing the renewal to review data showing how Mittelstadt’s performance warranted, in her opinion, her contract’s renewal.

“There are currently eight superintendent openings in the state of Florida right now,” Conklin said. “She came from the number one district in the state (St. Johns County). She knows their secret sauce. I know, and I have friends on the St. Johns County School Board, but they are coming down because we are going to take that spot.”

Board Chair Massaro agreed with Conklin’s arguments and sided with the majority of those in the audience who spoke in favor of the renewal.

“Nobody likes change,” Massaro said. “We, in Flagler County, in my time here, I have had five superintendents. Five. The majority of whom worked three years, and then we kicked them out for one reason or another. That’s a sin. How do you gain consistency, how do you gain stability, when you keep making changes?”

In an interview with The News-Journal Wednesday morning, Massaro said the superintendent, in addition to bringing along a completely new administrative structure, has adapted to the new FAST testing and implemented changes to bring the district into “this century.”

Massaro said she thinks her fellow board members’ decision is “100% political.”

“Because they don’t have enough knowledge of operations of the school system,” Massaro said. “This is not a business. Education in Florida is very complicated the way it’s organized, with legislative input and changes coming sometimes daily to how schools operate.

“Was it politically motivated? I believe it was. I believe that our members involved are highly activated, especially with the support of the governor. This could be a very dangerous direction that’s being taken by the new school board members.

“Now with the vote of last night by our school board, I’m extremely concerned of what direction the school board is going to be going in,” Massaro said. “(The school board members) had believed in her mission and supported the strategic plan that was driving for academic excellence. And now we start all over again, and that is not a good move.”

Selecting a new superintendent

A few shouts of disapproval came from the audience as Hunt cast the third vote opposing the contract.

The board will now schedule a workshop to discuss the next steps in selecting a new superintendent after Mittelstadt leaves.

Massaro said she is not sure whether the usual process of replacing the superintendent — which involves the Florida School Board Association stepping in to provide someone “that pretty much does most of the work as far as soliciting, advertising, and getting candidates” — will happen this time around.

“I’m not sure that this school board is going to want to work with the Florida School Board Association,” Massaro said. “My initial indications are that they are not. So that means you’d do it by yourself.”

Massaro said this workshop is scheduled for 3 p.m. April 18.

Mittelstadt did not immediately return a request for comment.

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