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Broward School Board may have violated Sunshine law, will soon start search for new superintendent

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EMILY MICHOT EMICHOT@MIAMIHERALD.COM
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The Miami Herald
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 Broward County School Board may have violated Florida's Sunshine law when they voted to fire Superintendent Vickie Cartwright late Monday night.

The motion to fire Cartwright was made by Board Member Daniel Foganholi around 9 p.m. during Monday night's meeting. Foganholi was appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in April, and his last day on the board is Tuesday, Nov. 15, according to reporting by the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

The board did not publish an agenda item on firing Cartwright before Monday's meeting, and no advance notice was given to the public that her fate could be decided that night.

"I was shocked and surprised by the conversation last night, especially when we had already previously had that conversation in October, and I knew what the expectations were," Cartwright told reporters during a brief recess in Tuesday's meeting.

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

On Tuesday, the four elected board members — all of whom voted against firing Cartwright — voted for redoing the vote. But they were shot down by the five members appointed by Republican Gov. DeSantis. Four of the appointees will be replaced by newly-elected members next week.

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Out of fear that the board had violated the law, school district attorney Marylin Batista told board members the Sunshine case law is vague and, if challenged, would be up to a judge to decide if there was a violation during Monday's meeting.

On Oct. 26, the board voted to give Cartwright 90 days for her to address board members’ concerns on district culture, community engagement and accountability. Instead, they voted to fire her after 19 days.

There was a lengthy discussion during Tuesday's meeting over whether the board violated Florida's Sunshine law during yesterday's meeting because they did not advertise the agenda item of firing Cartwright.

Alston, who serves as the board's chair, said he has spoken to lawyers and is "100% clear" that he did not violate the law, which provides a right of access to governmental proceedings at both the state and local levels. It also "applies to any gathering of two or more members of the same board to discuss some matter which will foreseeably come before that board for action."

Four DeSantis-appointed members will be out next Tuesday, and replaced by four newly elected members. Alston, who was also appointed by the governor, will still be on the board after the new members join because the term he is filling ends in 2024.

The battle over rescinding Monday's vote to fire Cartwright and redoing it next week took over much of the meeting, ending with Ryan Reiter, the initial swing vote, voting no.

Alston nominated his former principal Dr. Earlean Smiley to start immediately as interim superintendent, which was voted down by the board, many of whom said they needed more time to meet Smiley and consider other candidates.

Smiley is a former principal at Blanche Ely High School and former deputy superintendent. She administered the oath of office for Alston during his swearing-in ceremony earlier this year.

After a vote Tuesday afternoon, the board agreed to launch a search for an interim superintendent that is "less formal" than the search for a permanent one. More details of the search will be decided on Dec. 6 during a school board workshop.

The national search for a permanent superintendent will be conducted by an outside consulting firm, Alston said. The search for a temporary superintendent will be conducted by the school district's Human Relations department.

This story will be updated.

Gerard Albert III is back in Broward, where he grew up, after reporting on crime and public safety in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and West Palm Beach. Albert is a former WLRN intern who graduated from Florida International University.