If the search for next Miami-Dade schools chief isn’t fixed, School Board should prove it | Editorial

·4 min read
Pedro Portal/pportal@miamiherald.com

If speculation is correct that the search for a replacement for Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho has a foregone conclusion, then the School Board has gotten what it wants: a short list of candidates who submitted their applications under a tight deadline, some of whose resumes don’t appear to qualify them to lead the fourth-largest district in the United States.

The School Board will meet on Tuesday to “determine the appropriate process to screen, identify and hire” the next superintendent. The board previously signed off on a seven-day application period — seven days, not even a more common-sense seven weeks. And they rejected calls to find an interim and conduct a national search, like Broward County has done. It’s now imperative that the board allow parents, students and taxpayers to provide their input, but not even that will erase the impression that this selection process is a dog-and-pony show.

Just a few

Sixteen candidates filed applications by the Jan. 12 deadline, including Jose Dotres, a former district executive who’s now deputy superintendent in Collier County and is rumored to be the School Board’s favorite (he was honored by the Miami-Dade board with a resolution just a month ago). There are also other candidates with executive experience, such as Jacob Oliva, the Florida Department of Education senior chancellor of the Division of Public Schools and a former Flagler County superintendent; Oscar Rico, executive director of technology at a Texas school district; and Rafaela Espinal, assistant superintendent in the Office of Talent Management and Innovation for the New York City Department of Education. Others have less experience, and several candidates have backgrounds in charter-school companies.

The problem isn’t the candidates — each of them deserves to be looked at closely — but the process. How many high-caliber professionals didn’t apply for the job because of the impression that the selection process is fixed? How many more qualified candidates could a national search have brought forth?

That there are no Black candidates in a district as diverse as Miami-Dade is another indication the process was rushed and that a more thorough search could’ve yielded a broader pool of candidates.

New chief undermined

In politics, impression is reality. Without public trust, whoever gets the job, no matter how qualified, will have to prove they aren’t just a School Board puppet. Many expect board members to pick someone they can easily control — the opposite of Carvalho, whose star always shone brighter than that of board members. If that’s the case, there’s the danger the superintendent’s position will become a revolving door — as soon as that person falls out of favor with elected officials, they’re out. Whether you like Carvalho’s style or not, he offered stability, staying on the job for 14 years, something unheard of in large school districts.

More than two dozen community leaders and organizations, such as the League of Women Voters have signed a letter requesting the selection of the next superintendent be revamped and an interim be appointed. At this stage, we don’t expect the School Board to start the process again. They are either too hard-headed to admit their mistake or perhaps truly believe a rushed process will get them the superintendent they want. After all the public comments they’ve heard, if they still believe they are doing right by taxpayers, students, parents and district staff, they lack the ability to read the room.

The least the board can do is ensure the next phase of the search is more transparent and thorough. The top candidates must appear before the public, and each of them should be carefully vetted. That’s a heavy lift considering the stated goal is to hire Carvalho’s successor before he leaves on Feb. 3. Two weeks is barely enough time to hire a school custodian, much less someone to oversee a $7 billion budget and 335,000 students. Luckily, the School Board can reopen the application window if members fail to agree on a candidate.

How the Miami-Dade School Board proceeds on Tuesday and thereafter will say a lot about how serious this search process is. Here’s their chance to prove there are no backroom deals.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting