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Broward school board rescinds firing of superintendent Vickie Cartwright

Superintendent Vickie Cartwright speaks to reporters after the school board voted to rescind her firing on Dec.13. Board Chair Lori Alhadeff (left) voted to keep Cartwright fired.
Gerard Albert III
Superintendent Vickie Cartwright (right) listens to public comment about the vote to rescind her firing on Tuesday, Dec. 13.

Updated at 5:20 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 13

Broward schools superintendent Vickie Cartwright will now keep her job, after the district's board went back on an earlier decision and rescinded her firing at a chaotic meeting on Tuesday.

After less than a year-and-a-half in the role, Cartwright was fired last month in a surprise vote by the board's then members — the majority of whom were appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The vote to undo the firing passed 5 to 3, with Jeff Holness, Debbie Hixon, Allen Zeman, Sarah Leonardi and Nora Rupert voting to rescind. Members Torey Alston, Brenda Fam and Lori Alhadeff voted against.

But a national search for a new superintendent will continue, with Cartwright now facing another evaluation and a vote on her fate on Jan. 24.

"The board has committed to me that they're going to have an open mind when they come back and take a look at the update that will be provided," Cartwright said. "And I have full confidence and belief in what they say."

Newly-elected board member Jeff Holness put the vote to rescind Cartwright's dismissal on Tuesday's agenda.

"So my aim today is not so much necessarily about the superintendent, but is about the process and, procedurally, how this was done,” he said at the beginning of the meeting. “In my opinion [it was done] without a protocol, and it was not in the spirit of the Sunshine Law."

But board member Torey Alston, who was appointed by Gov. DeSantis earlier this year, insisted on the need for change.

"As a former board chair I've seen too much. I've heard too much and I know too much. It didn't take you long to recognize that it's time for change," he said.

The message that that action sends to our employees, current and future, anyone thinking of coming to Broward County, is chilling,
Board member Sarah Leonardi on the sudden firing of Cartwright in November.

The original motion to fire the superintendent was made by then-board member Daniel Foganholi, who was appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, around 9 p.m. in a Nov. 14 meeting — on the eve of his last day in the post.

"I was shocked and surprised," Cartwright said at the time.

Her job was not an item on the agenda for that meeting, nor was any advance notice given to the public that her fate could be decided that night. Just 19 days earlier the board had voted to give her 90 days to address their concerns on district culture, community engagement and accountability.

Since that vote, Cartwright continued in the role as she served out the 60 days' notice of termination outlined in her contract.

Vote to give back the time promised

During Tuesday's meeting, board member Allen Zeman said he wants to give Cartwright the time she was originally promised.

"I think we'd have to keep the 90 days. I think we have to make a decision on the 24th of January about the tenure," he said.

Board member Sarah Leonardi said that going back on the 90-day promise would hurt the county's ability to recruit.

"The message that that action sends to our employees, current and future, anyone thinking of coming to Broward County, is chilling," she. said. "Our instability creates ripple effects."

But chair Lori Alhadeff defended the original vote and voiced her frustration with giving Cartwright more time to prove herself.

"I think what is happening right now is ... you're kicking the can down the road. We are not creating stability," she said.

At Tuesday's meeting, more than 20 members of the public signed up to give their opinion. In a heated public comments session, most said they wanted a new superintendent.

Future in question after DeSantis' actions

Cartwright's fate as the leader of the nation's sixth-largest school district had been in question since Gov. DeSantis removed four board members from office in August and replaced them with his own picks, giving his appointees a majority on the board.

But on Nov. 22 four of the five DeSantis appointees were replaced by elected board members.

"During this entire time, I've kept my focus ... on the daily operations of this district, and ensuring that we are making the right decisions in the best interest of our students," Cartwright said after Tuesday's meeting.

Gerard Albert III covers Broward County. He is a former WLRN intern who graduated from Florida International University. He can be reached atgalbert@wlrnnews.org
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