New Lee County schools superintendent’s job could soon be in voters’ hands

WINK | By Sidney Persing and Matthew Seaver | Updated May 12, 2022

A practice that has been around for nearly 50 years may become a thing of the past. Governor DeSantis signed a law that will ask Lee County voters if they want to elect their school superintendent.

When you go to a ballot box there are lots of boxes to check. In November, Lee County voters will have another box to check.

“We’ll cross that when we get there,” said Superintendent Christopher Bernier

Bernier is the newly appointed Lee County schools superintendent and will be sworn in and on the job Monday.

If the majority of Lee County voters vote ‘yes’ to an elected superintendent referendum in November, he’ll have to campaign to keep his job.

WINK News asked the new superintendent if he is making plans in case that happens. “Right now I’m prepared to transfer and to come into Lee County and do the work I came here to do. That is not a priority for me at this time,” said Bernier.

Bernier may have to defend his job in just five months. If Lee County voters say yes, they’ll elect a superintendent in 2024.

The school board fought the measure. In a letter to lawmakers, the board wrote in part, “Superintendents appointed by school boards are vetted to ensure they have the qualifications, experience, character and proven leadership skills.”

“What we do is follow the law. What happens in Tallahassee we follow the citizens,” said Bernier.

The law though does not prohibit Bernier from taking a stance on the referendum, but he isn’t picking a side. “My job is to remain neutral in this process,” said Bernier.

Lots of districts in Florida have elected superintendents. More superintendents are elected than appointed.

Bernier made it clear though that a campaign is not his priority.

There are lots of schools in Lee County and that means lots of students, teachers and parents. All of them will answer to Bernier.

“My top priority is my entry plan. Right now, I think the goal is to come on board and continue to engage with the community like I did this afternoon,” said Bernier.

WINK News spoke with Bernier after speaking to the Southwest Florida Chamber of Commerce. We asked him what his biggest challenge will be.

“I don’t know that I know that yet. I think adjusting to a new superintendent,” said Bernier.

So far, Bernier said he has met mostly with teachers, principals and school staff. The students and their parents will get the chance to meet with him once he’s sworn in.

“I think the what the parents need to know at home is then when a difficult decision has to get made students will always be the priority,” said Bernier.

He said all those students have one thing in common with their parents and their teachers. “This has been a difficult two-year period of time everywhere in the country. And right now, I think most importantly, people need to be listened to,” Bernier said.

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