‘I was shocked.’ Broward superintendent on the School Board’s decision to abruptly fire her
Miami Herald | By Jimena Tavel and Sommer Brugal | Updated November 16, 2022
A day after the Broward School Board abruptly fired Superintendent Vickie Cartwright late Monday night, she weighed in Tuesday on what happened.
On Oct. 26, the board had considered firing Cartwright, hired by the board in February as the district’s first female superintendent, but gave her 90 days to improve her performance.
“I was shocked and surprised by the conversation last night,” she said Tuesday during a press conference amid a break in a special board meeting, “especially when we had already previously had that conversation in October, and I knew what the expectations were.”
Board member Daniel Foganholi, appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in April, proposed the motion to terminate Cartwright Monday evening after the board heard audit reports critical of the school district. Chair Torey Alston, selected by DeSantis in August, seconded the motion.
The board voted 5-4 around 10 p.m. Monday to terminate Cartwright. The five who voted to fire her were Alston, Foganholi, Ryan Reiter, Kevin Tynan and Manuel “Nandy” Serrano. Four of the five will be off the board by Tuesday, Nov. 22, as they were appointed by DeSantis earlier this year and not on the ballot.
The only person who will remain of the five is Alston, who was also appointed by DeSantis earlier this year but whose term does not come up until 2024.
The four board members who supported Cartwright were all elected and are all women: Lori Alhadeff, Debra Hixon, Sarah Leonardi and Nora Rupert. Alhadeff and Rupert were reelected to four-year terms in August with around 60 percent of the vote.
On Tuesday, Alston described the Monday night vote as “painful and emotional,” and said he wanted to focus on stability moving forward.
But Jorge Altuna, the board’s student adviser from Cypress Bay High School, said Tuesday the board’s decision to fire Cartwright was causing instability and concern among the students.
Anna Fusco, the president of the Broward Teachers Union, did not respond to several texts Tuesday from the Herald.
CRITICISM OVER FLORIDA’S SUNSHINE LAW
The board was criticized for not posting on its agenda an item about whether the board would terminate Cartwright’s contract. Instead, it only posted the item about the audit. Florida’s Sunshine law requires governmental bodies to post on an agenda all items it intends to discuss at a meeting to give the public a chance to weigh in.
Barbara Peterson, director of the Florida Center for Government Accountability and an expert on Florida’s Sunshine law, said in email to the Herald Tuesday that the board may have violated the law.
”… In this case, it’s hard to believe, given that the audit was on the agenda, that there wasn’t some sort of foreknowledge or agreement among at least some of the five that one of them would be making the motion to terminate. … This is too odd, particularly given that the superintendent had been given time to respond to the audit. And the fact that four of the five will roll off the board next week raises even more red flags.”
Cartwright, 52, first rose to the role as interim in July 2021. She became the official superintendent in February — the first female superintendent in the district’s 107-year history. At the time, the board approved a contract for her with an annual salary of $350,000 set to run until Dec. 31, 2024.
She will stay on for 60 more days as her contract stipulates that there must be two-month notice ahead of termination.
The board members who championed her dismissal cited audits involving two district contracts with two longtime vendors. The school district allowed the companies — one of which distributed caps and gowns, the other offering education management and training services — to overcharge the district and parents at least $1.4 million, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported earlier this month.
She said she felt “saddened” that she tried to correct the wrongdoing she uncovered that happened before her tenure, and some board members still hold that against her.
Asked if she hoped the new board would reinstate her, Cartwright said she looked forward to working with the current and the new board.
Four new board members will be sworn in on Tuesday: Allen Zeman, Rodney “Rod” Velez, Jeff Holness and Brenda Fam. They were elected on Nov. 8.
POLITICALLY MOTIVATED FIRING?
Asked if she thought politics motivated the five members appointed by DeSantis to remove her, Cartwright didn’t explicitly comment.
DeSantis appointed Alston, Reiter, Tynan and Serrano in August after removing four sitting board members following the release of a report from a statewide grand jury, which he requested the Florida Supreme Court to impanel after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High shootings in 2018.
The grand jury report recommended the removal of Board Chair Laurie Rich Levinson, Board Vice Chair Patricia Good and longtime board members Donna Korn and Ann Murray, citing mismanagement of the district’s $800 million school construction bond program.
DeSantis appointed Foganholi in April to replace board member Rosalind Osgood, who stepped down to successfully run for the Florida Senate.
“At this point in time, I am not prepared to say what is driving this,” she added. “I like to remain very open-minded. And I would like to remain committed again to what I am dedicated to, which is to the students, the staff and the overall community of Broward County.”
Alex Lanfranconi, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Education, said neither Secretary of Education Manny Diaz Jr. nor anyone from the Department of Education discussed the firing of the Broward superintendent before it happened.
“There was no discussion,” he wrote in an email to the Herald on Tuesday. “This was a decision made by the local school board.”
On Tuesday, at an unofficial swearing-in ceremony for the two Miami-Dade School Board members-elect, Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez told the Herald that while she had seen a headline about the late-Monday night event, she “really couldn’t comment.”
The lieutenant governor was there to unofficially administer the oaths of office to two new Miami-Dade board members, Roberto Alonso and Monica Colucci. They will be officially sworn in on Nov. 22.
Nevertheless, she offered, “I think that’s a process they have in place. I don’t think any rules were violated, so we’ll see what the future holds for that school district.”
Superintendent Jose Dotres declined to comment on the matter. Cartwright’s husband, Carl, works as the director of business services, accountability and performance and attended the Broward School Board meeting Monday night. He was hired by Miami-Dade schools in September.