Starting Tuesday, the Broward County School Board’s balance of power will no longer rest with appointees from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk and new Board members likely will be asked to decide whether to subvert the wishes of those Governor-appointed members.
If Board holdovers vote the same way they did last week, it will take just one of the four new members to vote in favor of bringing back Superintendent Vickie Cartwright. DeSantis’ appointees last week ousted Cartwright in a 5-4 vote, leaving the nation’s sixth largest school district leaderless. Now four of those five Board members who voted for Cartwright’s firing are leaving.
So far, none of the four newly elected members of the School Board have publicly taken a position on whether Cartwright’s firing at the last regular meeting of the DeSantis-majority Board should stand. But current Board member Sarah Leonardi told Michael Putney on This Week in South Florida that it was “most certainly possible” that the newly constituted School Board will reinstate Cartwright.
Cartwright will have 52 days left with the district when the new Board is seated, according to the 60-day notice her contract requires for a dismissal without cause. Leonardi had high praise for Cartwright’s performance.
“She’s carrying herself with extreme grace and poise and still carrying out the jobs and duties of the Superintendent, so you’ve got to hand it to her. … She’s been through the wringer and she’s still doing her job like she should.”
Torey Alston, the Board’s current Chairman, will be the only remaining DeSantis appointee on the School Board in the state’s most populous Democratic stronghold. His term lasts until 2024.
The Broward County School Board has been in turmoil as the aftershocks of the 2018 Parkland school shooting have reverberated. A report from a grand jury convened in the wake of the incident that left 17 people dead and 17 others injured led to the arrest and dismissal of Cartwright’s predecessor, Superintendent Robert Runcie. Cartwright was appointed Superintendent nine months ago.
But findings from the grand jury released in August recommended the suspension of five members who were part of the Board that chose Cartwright to lead Broward schools. The report found they were negligent in not pressing more forcefully for facility improvements that voters authorized in an $800 million construction bond. The list of improvements had work slated for the site of the shooting, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Those controversies predated Cartwright’s tenure, but outgoing, DeSantis-appointed Board member Kevin Tynan said the school district has been a “hot mess” for a long time.
“Sometimes the coach pays,” Tynan told This Week in South Florida.
Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter, Jaime, was among those killed in the Parkland shooting, blasted Cartwright’s firing, however.
Guttenberg, who has since become an advocate for changing gun laws and school safety, pointed to the way the firing was carried out. The move was not on the agenda and came two weeks after Cartwright had been given 90 days to improve. The vote was held after more than nine hours of Board meetings on the last scheduled day of meetings for the DeSantis-majority Board.
That led Guttenberg to argue the move was purely political.
“It has nothing at all to do with her performance in this role, it has nothing to do with what’s best for the kids,” he said of the firing. “If it did … they wouldn’t have orchestrated it this way and I hope this new board that has been duly elected by the Broward County citizens, I hope the first order of business for them is to hire her back.”
Besides Cartwright’s firing, the Board is also facing other uncertainty. A candidate who lost to Rodney Velez is challenging his eligibility to serve in elected office, representing District 1 on the School Board. As first reported by WLRN, Marie Murray Martin filed a lawsuit saying that Velez did not follow the procedures required to serve in elected office following his 1995 conviction for aggravated battery.
State records show Velez is a registered voter, but he’s not listed when his name and birthdate are entered on the website of the Office of Executive Clemency. The site has the caveat that the site is not for determining status or eligibility on pending cases.
Reached for comment Monday, Velez said his lawyer advised him not to speak about the case.