© 2023 WLRN
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

With new members sworn in, majority of Broward School Board is now DeSantis appointees

Joe Cavaretta / South Florida Sun Sentinel
Broward County's newest school board members were sworn in on Tuesday. They are, from left, Kevin Tynan, Ryan Reiter, Torey Alston and Manuel “Nandy” A. Serrano.

The majority of the Broward County School Board is now made up of officials appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis — not by people elected by voters.

Four new board members were sworn into office at the K.C. Wright Administration Building on Tuesday, promising “real and effective change” in the district that’s still grappling with the repercussions of the 2018 Parkland shooting.

WLRN is here for you, even when life is unpredictable. Our journalists are continuing to work hard to keep you informed across South Florida. Please support this vital work. Become a WLRN member today. Thank you.

Days after being appointed to the school board, Torey Alston is now in charge of it. He was unanimously elected chair on Tuesday, with the power to shape the board’s agenda and to lead meetings during a time of upheaval in the district.

“I know how to turn around organizations. I am ready to lead on this school board,” Alston said after being sworn in. “We need a forward-thinking school board who understands change management and crisis management.”

The new members could have significant influence, even in their short time in office. On Sept. 13, the board is slated to hold a final vote on next year’s budget.

DeSantis appointed the new members on Friday, to replace four sitting members that he removed from office. It’s a transformational shift for the country’s sixth largest school district and a rare opportunity to advance conservative policy priorities in one of the state’s most Democratic-leaning counties — without having to win a single election.

The removals were recommended by a statewide grand jury that DeSantis requested back in 2019 to investigate school safety and district mismanagement in the wake of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The grand jury’s final report, which was released publicly on August 18, found that Board Chair Laurie Rich Levinson, Vice Chair Patricia Good and Members Donna Korn and Ann Murray failed to hold district officials responsible for fraud and mismanagement.

Alston says accountability won’t end with elected officials — he’ll be assessing staff as well.

“With this grand jury report now available, my goal is to ensure holding all of our staff accountable, to present clear and actionable resolutions to all issues outlined in the report — soon and very soon,” he said.

The four new members sworn in on Tuesday are:

  • Torey Alston, who resigned his seat on the Broward County Commission to take the appointment 
  • Ryan Reiter, a U.S. Marine Corps Veteran and Director of Government Relations for Kaufman Lynn Construction
  • Manuel “Nandy” A. Serrano, a member of the Florida Sports Foundation Board of Directors and CEO and Founder of Clubhouse Private Wealth
  • Kevin Tynan, attorney with Richardson and Tynan, who was previously appointed to the Broward County School Board by then-governor Charlie Crist

New members say they’re ready to make changes

The four new members say they’re intent on making change in the district — and quickly. Reiter, Serrano and Tynan are all slated to term out in November, when newly elected members will be sworn in.

The term of board member Daniel Foganholi, who was appointed by DeSantis in April, will also run out in November. Alston’s term expires in 2024.

“I'd be remiss if I, like my colleagues being sworn in today, don't thank the governor for his trust in our abilities to try and effectuate change even in the limited time that we're here,” Tynan said.

Tynan says the district’s failings run deep, saying those who “don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it”.

“Unfortunately, when we look at certain things or issues for the school board, we have been doomed to repeat those errors,” Tynan said. “I hope — with my new friends and colleagues, not just being sworn in today, but those that serve — that we find a way to get out of that repeat pattern of embarrassment and failure. To move forward.”

Anna Fusco, who heads the Broward Teachers Union, said she’s willing to work with the new board members to help "fix what’s broken the district" —despite what she called “the interference from our governor”.

“I heard all four of you say, the number one thing… why you’re sitting there is for the student,” Fusco said. “I’m gonna hope you’re not sitting there for the governor.”

DeSantis appointees show their power as a voting block

The DeSantis appointees have already demonstrated their potential power as a voting block — in thwarting board member Lori Alhadeff’s years-long effort to become chair. Alhadeff ran for the board in 2018 after her daughter Alyssa was murdered at MSD.

On Tuesday, board member Sarah Leonardi nominated Alhadeff as chair. The vote highlighted the new dynamics on the board, with the four elected members voting yes and the five DeSantis-appointed members voting no.

Alhadeff was unanimously elected as vice chair at Tuesday’s meeting. Nathalie Lynch-Walsh, a frequent critic of district officials and a supporter of Alhadeff, called the move a “compromise”.

“That is what people want to see... a board able to compromise and stay balanced. Because that has not been happening,” Lynch-Walsh said.

In a moment that underscored the rapid transformation on the board, Superintendent Vickie Cartwright inadvertently referred to Chair Alston — who is a man — as “Madam” Chair.

“Please forgive me,” Cartwright said as meeting attendees laughed. “Old habits.”

Just a few months earlier, the board was made up entirely of women. Now, a majority of its members are men — all of them appointed by DeSantis.

New board looking at budget, superintendent’s job evaluation

The new members could have significant influence, even in their short time in office. On Sept. 13, the board is slated to hold a final vote on next year’s budget.

Board members are also in the process of conducting Cartwright’s first job evaluation, which will assess her performance from February 24 to August 1.

It’s not clear whether the new board members will be able to participate in the evaluation, since they weren’t in office during the time period at issue.

Matias J. Ocner / Miami Herald
Broward Schools Superintendent Vickie Cartwright exits the Kathleen C. Wright Administration Center on Friday, Aug. 26, 2022 after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended four Broward County School Board members. As Cartwright left the building, she made her way past a black bulletin board only displaying the five remaining members.

Speaking to reporters, board member Serrano said he’s looking forward to working with Cartwright but says it’s too soon for him to assess her work in Broward County.

“I believe that she is a very good leader that has had a great background and success in the previous districts that she has been able to run,” Serrano said. “But at this time I have no comment about her action plan or whether she’s doing a good job or not.”

Cartwright said she’s eager to prove to the board and the public that the district is already addressing issues identified in the grand jury’s report.

“Under my leadership, we have done a lot of change,” Cartwright said. “You would have thought I had a copy of the grand jury report. Which I did not. But these were areas that I myself, as well as my staff, recognized early on as areas that needed to have…shoring up, as you might say.”

The board is scheduled to meet again on Wednesday at 10 am to discuss school safety and other issues.

Kate Payne is WLRN's education reporter