© 2024 WLRN
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The Morning Miami-Dade County Schools Superintendent Almost Announced He Was Leaving For NYC

Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho
Daniel Bock
For the Miami Herald
Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, announced Thursday he's turned down a position as chancellor of public schools for New York City.

After a dramatic hours-long, hastily called school board meeting during which he was begged to stay, Miami-Dade County Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho decided to turn down an offer to lead the nation’s largest system of public schools, possibly making a political enemy of New York City’s mayor in the process.

“It is not easier to do this at the 11th hour — quite frankly, the 12th, 13th hour,” Carvalho said, speaking to school board members, students and community members packed into the school board auditorium near the end of the four-hour meeting. “I had made a decision on the basis of what I felt was best for me professionally, a decision that would have taken me back to the city where I first worked in this country as a dishwasher.

“But I would not be true to myself and to this community if I did not give myself a chance to reconsider,” he said. “I have underestimated the emotional tug" and the impact "crying members of the community have had on me.”

Carvalho spent the first two hours of the meeting listening to school board members, business leaders and students plead with him to remain in the job he has held for a decade. He received a standing ovation upon entering the room. At one point, the audience chanted, “please don’t go.” The president of Miami-Dade's Chamber of Commerce read him the poem "If—" by Rudyard Kipling.

The board took two different recesses as Carvalho left the room to try to reach New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to communicate his decision. Education leaders, politicians and reporters in New York City and Miami watched and waited with rapt attention, mocking the affair on Twitter as a circus.

Ultimately, Carvalho said, what had the biggest impact on his change of heart were the pleas of two undocumented students whom he spoke with prior to the meeting “who said, ‘I don’t know what my future will be like if you leave.’

“If I were to leave those two, I would be leaving everything I believe in,” he said.

Carvalho said when he finally connected with his almost-boss, de Blasio “expressed to me that he was sorry that our brief friendship didn’t have a chance to continue to evolve.”

The superintendent said he’d found common ground with de Blasio, who was recently reelected and is a high-profile figure in progressive politics, on the value of youth voices. They were also united in their opposition to proposals to arm teachers, which have become prominent nationally and in Florida following the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

“Everything was so synchronized that we felt like kindred spirits,” Carvalho said of himself and the Democratic mayor. “There is no anger. There is sadness and disappointment, but that is to be expected.”

De Blasio’s press secretary expressed more than sadness and disappointment on Twitter.

Eric Phillips tweeted after Carvalho announced his decision: “Carvalho backed out. He won't be coming to NYC. There is...never a dull moment in our great city.”

A few minutes later: “He was a Yes for a week+, until he was a No 15 minutes ago. Bullet dodged.”

And finally: “Who would ever hire this guy again? Who would ever vote for him?”

Carvalho remarked that his decision was likely against his best interests, and he’s probably right — at least in terms of potential future jobs outside Florida, given the swift backlash from New York City’s ruthless politicians and reporters.

When announcing his decision to stay, Carvalho implied he had already accepted the job in New York City — saying he was breaking a commitment he had made to adults in the other city to keep the commitment he had made to the children of Miami.

And his decision wasn’t about money. He said de Blasio offered to match his current salary of $345,000, which is about $100,000 more than the that of the city’s current schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña. (Fariña also earned a lucrative pension as a retired teacher.)

That Carvalho decided to stay in Miami shows “he’s the right person for the job right now,” School Board Chair Perla Taberas Hantman said. “I always had hope that since his feelings and his heart are in Miami, he would take that into consideration. And obviously it happened that way.”

Carvalho had never confirmed publicly he would take the job, but POLITICO reported late Wednesday he would be the next chancellor of the nation’s largest public school system. Then de Blasio seemed to confirm the news in a glowing but cautious statement to the New York Times.

“Alberto Carvalho is a world-class educator with an unmatched track record of success,” de Blasio said in the statement. “I am very confident that our extensive, national search has found New York City the best person to lead the nation’s largest school system into the future.”

Throughout the meeting, Carvalho also received effusive praise from local leaders. He listened quietly in his seat at the end of the chamber desk as fans on the school board and in the community listed his accomplishments as superintendent: overseeing an uptick in graduation rates and school grades, including the elimination of “F” grades last year; convincing voters to approve a $1.2 billion general obligation bond for improving school facilities and technology infrastructure; and getting a handle on the district’s finances and governance.

“He has taken the district to heights that 20 years ago were only dreamed of,” Board Member Marta Perez said.

Carvalho, for his part, said now that he’s decided to remain in Miami, he wants to focus attention on influencing appropriations decisions in Tallahassee, boosting mental health services in schools, fighting “the insanity” of proposals to put guns in the hands of teachers and pursuing gun control policies.

“My ways are forceful,” he said. “My ways are direct.”

Jessica Bakeman is Director of Enterprise Journalism at WLRN News, and she is the former senior news editor and education reporter. Her 2021 project "Class of COVID-19" won a national Edward R. Murrow Award.
More On This Topic