New Broward School Board plans to weigh rescinding Cartwright’s firing — or moving on

MATIAS J. OCNER/mocner@miamiherald.com

A conflicted Broward School Board will decide next week whether to move forward with firing Superintendent Vickie Cartwright or to rescind her termination.

On Tuesday night, the school district posted the agenda for next Tuesday’s school board meeting, the first official one since the swearing-in ceremony of three new elected board members on Nov. 22. The document forecasts dueling motions.

On one side, Jeff Holness, the representative for District 5 who just joined the board after winning his runoff election on Nov. 8, appears to be pushing to keep Cartwright. On the other side, Chair Lori Alhadeff wants the opposite.

READ MORE: Broward School Board approves superintendent national search; Cartwright stays for 60 days

The former School Board, controlled by members appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, suddenly fired Cartwright on Nov. 14, about a week before four out of the five who voted in favor of her ousting would leave the board.

The following day, Alhadeff and three other board members — Debra Hixon, Nora Rupert and Sarah Leonardi, who all voted against terminating Cartwright the day before — voted in favor of rescinding the termination vote. But they lost 5-4, with the DeSantis appointees siding together again.

Also on Nov. 15, the board then unanimously voted to launch two searches — one for a new permanent superintendent and another one for an interim superintendent.

During a workshop Tuesday, the board discussed a few of the search aspects: candidate eligibility, salary range and benefits, length of contract, hiring deadline and potential search firms.

Members’ agenda items collide

Holness didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday night after the workshop ended and before the agenda posted.

He added three items to next Tuesday’s meeting: halt the national search for a superintendent, rescind Cartwright’s termination and reset the timeline for Cartwright’s 90-day improvement plan that the board originally approved on Oct. 25.

READ MORE: Broward School Board abstains from firing superintendent, gives her 90 days to improve

Alhadeff, reelected by voters to her District 4 post in the August primaries and recently elected chair of the board by her fellow board members, will advocate to replace Cartwright as quickly as possible.

She added two items to the agenda for next Tuesday: one to interview and appoint Earlean Smiley as interim superintendent of schools, and another to amend Cartwright’s contract to allow her to step down before her Jan. 13 deadline and remain only to advise the new interim superintendent.

Torey Alston, appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to the District 2 seat on Aug. 26, initially motioned on Nov. 16 to name Smiley, a former principal at Blanche Ely High School in Pompano Beach and former deputy superintendent for Broward Public Schools, as interim superintendent. His motion failed.

READ MORE: DeSantis appointee ousted as Broward School Board chair; Parkland parent replaces him

Alston also added an item to next Tuesday’s agenda: “take action(s), discuss and next steps to appoint an interim Superintendent of Schools.” He didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment late Tuesday night.

During the workshop Tuesday, Alston suggested starting the search process right away on Wednesday, by requesting interim suggestions until noon Monday, a day before the scheduled meeting. He also asked the board to forbid the interim superintendent from becoming the permanent one.

Reached late Tuesday, Alhadeff said she doesn’t plan to retract her items. At a board workshop earlier in the day, she notified her colleagues of the items she had added before they posted and said, “I think that it’s vitally important that as a board we move forward and in a way to quickly try to stabilize this district.”

‘Turnover ... is alarming’

To support his effort to reinstate Cartwright’s contract, Holness wrote, “This agenda item is being proposed to address two areas of concern: protocol and stability.”

The former board didn’t violate Sunshine Law but went “against the spirit or intent of the law” when dismissing Cartwright, he said. He added he’s seeking to “bring a peace of mind to our district by offering a point of stability and consistency.”

“With every change in leadership comes uncertainty and disarray,” Holness said. “Turnover in this district is alarming and I believe that steadiness at the top with the superintendent is where we must start.”

READ MORE: Broward School Board members try to save Cartwright from firing; questions over Sunshine law

At the board workshop Tuesday, during the discussion about a future interim and permanent superintendent, two other board members openly indicated they wanted Cartwright to stay.

Hixon, who represents the at-large seat 9 and got elected as vice chair of the board recently, said: “I really wish we weren’t looking for a superintendent in the first place.”

Leonardi, from District 3, said: “I am also disappointed that we’re here.”

At the time, Holness said: “I heard School Board Member Hixon and School Board Member Leonardi with concerns about how we got here, and procedurally I have many concerns, but we do have this item before us today and we must address the item before us.”

Hixon, Leonardi and Holness weighed in on the topic at hand, like the rest of the five members present: Alston, Alhadeff, Nora Rupert, and newly elected members Brenda Fam and Allen Zeman.

READ MORE: Broward School Board will have four new members. Will they reverse superintendent’s firing?

Rodney Velez (District 1), also elected in November, was not sworn in due to issues that have arisen regarding his eligibility to hold office after he was convicted in 1995 of aggravated battery, a second-degree felony. Amendment 4, passed by voters in 2018, restored the rights of most Florida felons if they served time and paid their fines.

Hixon said she liked the idea of opening up the search for a new superintendent to external and internal candidates, and said the board should allow an interim superintendent to apply to become the permanent one.

Leonardi felt unsure about letting an interim apply for the permanent position, she said.

Holness said he wants an external candidate to serve as interim, who should make about 65% of what the permanent will make. He disagreed with Nora Rupert, the District 7 board member, saying a doctorate should not be a requirement, and agreed with Hixon that an interim should be allowed to stay on for good.