School districts in Broward and Palm Beach counties are moving forward with interim superintendents after the former leaders in each county recently resigned.
Palm Beach Interim Superintendent Mike Burke was sworn in Wednesday, replacing outgoing Superintendent Donald Fennoy. In Broward, the School Board has also OK’d a $275,000 per year contract for Vickie Cartwright, who will serve as interim leader after Ronald Runcie stepped down following his arrest on perjury charges.
Cartwright will officially take over beginning Aug. 2, while Burke is installed just weeks before school is set to begin on Aug. 10.
The two take over as the coronavirus is surging throughout the South Florida area. That has prompted both school districts to reconsider their mask policies ahead of the 2021-22 school year. Broward has already decided to begin the school year with a mask mandate, in defiance of the Governor. Burke said Thursday he’s not ruling out a similar move, though no decision has been finalized.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has threatened to call a Special Session to approve measures to block school districts from requiring masks in the upcoming school year. DeSantis’ spokesperson, Christina Pushaw, said the Governor is monitoring whether those school districts will enact any punishment mechanism for enforcing the mask rules.
DeSantis and his team have heavily pushed back on mask mandates, especially for young students, citing the low number of children severely impacted by COVID-19. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, recently reevaluated its stance and recommended schools begin the year with mask mandates in high transmission areas. Health officials worry about the rapid spread of the delta variant, which can jump from students to immunocompromised individuals. The continued spread of COVID-19 also presents a threat the virus can continue to mutate into a more deadly variant.
Burke and Cartwright will navigate those difficult issues right at the start of their respective tenures. Cartwright will also lead Broward County Public Schools after the controversy surrounding former Superintendent Runcie.
Runcie and Barbara Myrick, who served as general counsel for the School District under Runcie, are facing charges relating to an ongoing grand jury investigation impaneled to investigate school districts’ school safety practices. According to investigators, Myrick disclosed information about the grand jury proceedings and coordinated with Runcie regarding his testimony. Runcie then told prosecutors he had not discussed whether he spoke to anyone about his questioning before testifying.
Though Runcie pleaded not guilty, he did negotiate a separation with the School District, triggering a search for his replacement. Enter Cartwright, who was the former Superintendent in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
Runcie will remain an employee of the district until Aug. 10, where he will help advise Cartwright. Cartwright also formerly worked in the Orange County Public Schools system.
In Palm Beach County, Fennoy announced in mid-July he would step aside as Superintendent after three years in that role. He cited stresses related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including losing both of his in-laws.
Burke worked as Chief Financial Officer for the School District of Palm Beach County before being named interim head to take the place of Fennoy.