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Broward school board cuts ties with superintendent, selects replacement

Broward County Schools interim superintendent Dr. Vickie Cartwright speaks to the media following a meeting of the Broward County School Board Oct. 26, 2021. The board voted to keep the current mask mandate in place for elementary and middle school students but to relax the policy for high school students starting Monday.
The Miami Herald
Former Broward County Schools Superintendent Vickie Cartwright pictured here in Fort Lauderdale on July 28, left the district Tuesday as school board members approved her separation agreement.

Broward County Public Schools has a new superintendent as of this week — the district's third one in less than two years.

School board members voted Tuesday to approve a "mutual separation agreement" with now-former Superintendent Vickie Cartwright after a prolonged period of uncertainty over Cartwight's over her dismissal.

School board members spent time debating over Cartwright's severance package, which in its original form amounted to nearly $366,000 in total compensation for the erstwhile leader, including 20 weeks of severance, unused sick leave and vacation time and a contentious 60-day consulting provision. Under that provision, Cartwright would have been hired as a consultant for her replacement for 60 days following her departure, and accrue additional salary and benefits.

The intial agreement's consulting provision, in particular, drew complaints from members of the public and school board member Allen Zeman who felt the compensation was too much and the district needed a clean break from Cartwright's leadership.

"If I wanted to stand in front of the people who elected me to this office, $366,000 is too much," Zeman said from the dais.

Some members of the public characterized the severance package as "hush money" that Cartwright "extorted" from the district during negotiations, by alleging that she had been discriminated against based on her race and gender and that she had a potential legal case against the district. In her seperation agreement, Cartwright waives the right to bring any lawsuit claims against the district.

Zeman moved to strike the consulting provision from the agreement, that reduced Cartwright's total separation compensation by $98,239.03 in additional salary and benefits for 60 days.

Following unanimous approval of the amended separation package, board members moved to appoint Cartwright's interim replacement until the next school year.

After some debate, board members landed on Dr. Earlean Smiley, a retired former principal at Blanche Ely High School and former deputy superintendent who moved to South Carolina in 2010.

Smiley was a favorite of Gov. Ron DeSantis appointee Torey Alston, who said Smiley was his former principal. Smiley gained the support of the majority of the board, however, and won the appointment in a 7-2 vote, with "no" votes from board members Zeman and Jeff Holness.

Smiley will serve as interim superintendent while the board conducts a national search for a permanent one for the 2023-2024 school year.

While Smiley goes through the onboarding process with the school district, Associate Superintendent Valerie Wanza will serve as the acting superintendent in her stead.

Joshua Ceballos is WLRN's Local Government Accountability Reporter and a member of the investigations team. Reach Joshua Ceballos at jceballos@wlrnnews.org
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