Broward superintendent's future appears uncertain, after board members criticize her leadership
The future of the superintendent of Broward County Public Schools could be in jeopardy, after a tense board meeting last night.
For years, the district has struggled to regain public trust and internal stability, after multiple grand jury investigations, the indictment of elected and appointed officials, and the repercussions of the 2018 Parkland shooting.
Citing what they described as a culture of secrecy, retaliation and miscommunication, board members raised significant concerns about the state of BCPS and questioned whether Superintendent Vickie Cartwright is up to the task of leading the district.
“There is fear in this build that is palpable. And what the fear is? Retaliation,” said Board Member Nora Rupert. “That stuff has got to stop. Absolutely stop.”
Multiple board members pointed to complaints of district officials mismanaging communication with the public and with board members themselves, bungling high profile job searches and slow-walking public records requests.
Board Chair Torey Alston described his critiques of Cartwright as “a lack of vision for me in critical areas, questionable judgment and what I would call a failure of leadership”.
But the superintendent has defended her record, pointing to progress and 'significant achievements'.
Board members call for leadership and accountability
Some of the strongest criticisms came from members of the board who were appointed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis — after he removed their predecessors in the wake of a grand jury investigation into mismanagement and school safety.
The five appointed members hold a majority on the board — an unprecedented power dynamic in one of the state’s most Democratic-leaning counties — though four of the members will term out in November.
“I believe we need somebody that's gonna… take accountability. Be about transparency. Honesty. And take it upon themselves to change this culture,” said Board Member Daniel Foganholi. “If you don't change the culture in this building, you will never gain the trust outside.”
If the board doesn’t take action, Foganholi said, “this district is going to continue to be the same… and I don’t want to be [at] the point of saying, ‘I told you so’ two years from now.”
The statements came during a discussion on the board’s interim evaluations of Cartwright’s job performance during the first six months of her time as the district’s permanent leader. She began as interim superintendent on Aug. 2, 2021.
The time period at issue ended before the four newly appointed board members were sworn into office on Aug. 30 — but that didn’t stop them from voicing their criticisms of Cartwright’s performance. Foganholi, who was also appointed by DeSantis, took office on May 3.
Six of the board members submitted written evaluations of Cartwright’s performance, all giving her an overall ranking of “effective”, except Board Member Ryan Reiter who rated her as “highly effective” — although during Tuesday’s meeting he asked his colleagues to disregard his evaluation, because he took office after the evaluation period ended.
Cartwright defends her job performance
The lowest ranking came from Board Member Sarah Leonardi. Still, Leonardi says the superintendent deserves more time to prove herself.
“I'm really taken aback by the way the conversation has gone today,” Leonardi said. “I was pretty tough on the superintendent. But in the end, I came to the conclusion that she needs to be given time and space to make changes and do her job.”
For her part, Cartwright said she’s made real progress since taking the helm — pointing to efforts to fill staff vacancies, enhance school security and overhaul administrative staffing.
“While there is a lot of work that still remains to be done, we are definitely on the right track and we are headed in the right direction. There have been significant accomplishments that have occurred,” she said.
Five appointed members ‘send a message’ by voting to not accept Cartwright’s performance evaluation
Some members of the public told the board they’ve seen enough; though Cartwright inherited many of the district’s challenges, some don’t believe she’s capable of addressing them.
“This superintendent is not going to change,” said Nathalie Lynch-Walsh, a frequent critic of the district and a former school board candidate. “This is not a communication problem. It's a leadership problem. You might change behavior because you think you're about to be fired, but you cannot change who the person is.”
Ultimately, the five board members appointed by DeSantis voted to not accept Cartwright’s evaluations — a move which the board’s attorney says has no real effect but simply makes “a statement”.
While ceremonial, the vote demonstrates the appointed members’ power as a voting bloc — at least until new members are sworn in in November.
“The easiest thing for me to do is to do nothing,” Alston said. “I can stay quiet. I can put my head in the sand and wait for someone else to act and give their comments. That's not leadership. And that's not what I'm prepared to do today.”
The board is scheduled to meet again Tuesday Oct. 25.