Miami Herald | By Raisa Habersham | November 22, 2022
Five Broward School Board members were sworn in Tuesday and the chaos over the past few months — including Gov. Ron DeSantis removing four board members and the board firing the superintendent last week — was very much the theme, with one new board member acknowledging the district was at risk of being taken over by the state.
“After two grand juries focused on Broward County Schools on their actions and inactions, our board could be dismissed and placed in the form of receivership,” Allen Zeman told the crowd at Fort Lauderdale High School on Tuesday morning.
“We’re at risk as an independent school system. And we must act accordingly. We don’t have time for drama and intrigue, ethical lapses or misplaced priorities,” he continued. “We have to focus on tangible measurable progress that our students in our schools in our community deserve.”
Zeman’s comments came after the board fired Broward Superintendent Vickie Cartwright last Monday night in a 5-4 vote. The five board members who voted to fire her were all appointed by DeSantis. Four of the five are no longer on the board.
Zeman, who will represent the countywide at-large District 8 seat, was one of three newly elected board members sworn in after winning the Nov. 8 election. The other two were Jeff Holness (District 5) and Brenda Fam (District 6). Jeff
In his speech, Zeman noted how he was a graduate of Fort Lauderdale High School.
“This is my high school,’ he declared with his voice welling up. “Forty-five years ago, in 1977, I walked in here as a freshman. I”m a proud Flying L.”
ONE BROWARD SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER NOT SWORN IN
Rodney Velez (District 1), also elected in November, was not sworn in due to issues that have arisen about his eligibility to hold office after he was convicted years ago of aggravated battery, a felony. Amendment 4, passed by voters in 2018, restored the rights of most Florida felons if they served time and paid their fines.amended-case-filing-martin-vs-velez
But Marie Murray Martin, who lost to Velez by a 52-to-48 percent margin, sued Velez, the Broward Supervisor of Elections and Broward School Board Chair Torey Alston (District 2), alleging Velez is not qualified to hold office. Velez is now a real estate manager and has two children.
“The state has everything they need to hit the button and process everything,” Velez told WLRN before the ceremony Tuesday morning.
The new members joined two incumbents, Lori Alhadeff (District 4) and Nora Rupert (District 7), each of whom were elected in the Aug. 23 primary with about 60 percent of the vote.
The four newly elected members replaced four DeSantis-appointed members: Daniel Foganholi, Ryan Reiter, Kevin Tynan and Manuel “Nandy” Serrano. Board Chair Alston, another appointee, does not come up for election until 2024.
Each newly elected member spoke as did Alhadeff and Rupert, but it was Fam who was welcomed on stage to thunderous applause as she took her oath in English and Spanish. Fam said she does not speak Spanish but said many of her constituents do.
“Your voice has not been heard for the last few years and we have to change that,” Fam addressed the crowd. Fam noted that as a Republican, she had a racially diverse coalition who elected her even though she acknowledged her party is a minority in Broward. Broward County is the most Democratic county in Florida, with more than twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans.
POWER SHIFT ON BOARD
The new members will have to decide whether to rescind the firing of Cartwright, who was hired by the board in February as the district’s first woman superintendent.
The board’s political alignment has shifted with the new board members. Instead of five DeSantis-appointed board members — who all voted to fire Cartwright — the board has only one remaining, Alston, who has Fam’s support.
The four board members who voted against Cartwright’s firing — vice chair Alhadeff, Debra Hixon, Sarah Leonardi and Rupert — tried to rescind Cartwright’s dismissal last week but were defeated in a 5-4 vote.
Late last Monday, Nov. 14, the board abruptly fired Cartwright after an audit revealed two vendors overcharged the district and parents at least $1.4 million, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported earlier this month. The next day, the nine-member board voted unanimously to hire a firm to conduct a national search for a new superintendent.
Cartwright’s contract mandates that she receive a 60-day notice of termination, so she will stay on for at least two months. She’s also entitled to severance pay totaling 20 weeks of her $350,000 salary, plus any unused sick and vacation days, per her contract.
The new board members will also elect a new chair and vice chair at an 11 a.m. meeting Tuesday.
Miami Herald education reporter Jimena Tavel contributed to this report.