‘Politically, Florida is a challenge’: Only 15 qualify for Broward superintendent job
The Broward School Board will decide next Tuesday whether to pause the search for its next superintendent to recruit more applicants or select finalists from the 15 qualified candidates who have applied — an applicant pool a board member called “junior varsity.”
A total of 26 people applied for the job, but only 15 met the minimum requirements, like a master’s degree and computer skills. Out of those 15, a search firm executive initially recommended six to board members Tuesday, but then said only two or maybe three “could do the job.”
“In my view, a pool that looks like a junior varsity list of certain professionals. ... I’m not excited about the pool at all,” said Torey Alston, who represents district 2, during the board workshop. “The pool is absolutely weak — collectively.”
Alston said some potential applicants could have concerns with the Sunshine Law in Florida, which requires governmental bodies to be transparent, exposing applicants’ names early on in the process. He also hypothesized some could have been looking for a higher salary or a better deal at their current jobs.
Asked after the workshop whether he thought the political climate in Florida and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ education agenda could have dissuaded some from applying, Alston said: “Absolutely not.”
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The search firm consultant, however, and at least two other board members disagreed.
Ralph Ferrie, the regional director for the eastern region of the Nebraska-based McPherson and Jacobson, told board members that issues like the Sunshine Law affected the process, but so did the Republican Party’s narrative in the state, and the turmoil between the School Board and the former superintendent, Vickie Cartwright.
Emboldened by a supermajority in the Legislature, DeSantis and his GOP allies have passed bills widely criticized by the education community, including imposing restrictions on teachers’ unions and classroom instruction.
Cartwright and the board parted ways mutually in January, after five DeSantis appointees to the nine-member board fired her in November, only to have a new board rescind the firing in December. The board hired her as interim superintendent in August 2021, and named her superintendent in February 2022, under a $350,000 annual contract.
“Politically, Florida is a challenge. I’m being very straight up with you. Very, very challenging,” he said.
“And you know what, money alone is not a motivator for someone to work in a sophisticated, complicated, outstanding school district. More importantly is how they’re going to work collaboratively with board. ... I was a superintendent for 21 years. I spent more time with my board than I did with my spouse. ... So I want to know what are going to be my board relationships; I’m going to watch board meetings; I’m going to read the press. ... I’m going to assess the political environment in Florida. These are the issues. ... Why would I give up if I’m on a contract with five years ... to come where I’ve seen turnover in superintendents like a revolving door?”
Broward is the nation’s sixth-largest school district.
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Education isn’t ‘sexy’ in Florida right now, board member says
Debra Hixon, the board’s vice chair who occupies the countywide seat 9 on the board, acknowledged education isn’t “sexy” in Florida right now, so she didn’t find the low applicant pool “surprising.”
“There’s a lot of micromanagement that’s happening in our state, and the respect and the dignity of education is just not where it should be for us to be attracting people,” Hixon said. “We live in paradise. People should be flocking to come here and they’re staying in freezing cold places because they’re not being micromanaged there.”
“It isn’t just about money,” she added. “It is about how comfortable and how welcome you feel in a place.”
Board member Allen Zeman, from the countywide seat 8, echoed that sentiment: “There is significant evidence — when you look at applicants to the University of Florida from people outside of Florida, when you look at retention statistics of faculty, tenured faculty members in Florida. There’s absolutely a political effect.”
Who applied to be the next superintendent of Broward Schools?
The application window for superintendent closed at 11:30 p.m. Central Time on April 27. Out of the 26 people who applied, Ferrie, from the search firm, picked four and marked them as “green,” and two more as “yellow.”
He advised the board on Tuesday to pick finalists out of those six, but the board could still select finalists from the 15 who qualified.
The green ones are:
Valerie Wanza, the acting chief of staff at Broward County Public Schools who’s been with the district since 1992 and served as superintendent for a few days earlier this year after Cartwright left
Luis Solano, deputy superintendent for Detroit Public Schools
Peter Licata, regional superintendent at Palm Beach County Schools
Jason Nault, associate superintendent of teaching and learning, equity and accountability at Waukegan Public Schools in suburban Chicago and a former Broward principal
The yellow ones are:
Wanda Paul, chief operating officer for the Houston Independent School District and a former facilities and operations chief for Palm Beach County Schools
Keith Oswald, chief of equity and wellness at Palm Beach County Schools
The other nine who qualified are:
Shernette Grant, chief program officer for Junior Achievement of South Florida
Stephen Bournes, deputy superintendent and chief academic officer for the Chester Community Charter School in Chester, Pennsylvania
Raymond Bryant, former superintendent of Thomasville City Schools in Georgia
Adam Taylor, a consultant and former superintendent with Rutland City Public Schools in Vermont
Michael Esposito, director of pupil services for the Helendale School District in California
Kenneth Goeken, director of special education and support services for the Rocklin Unified School District in California
Wayne Alexander, principal at Batala School in Bridgeport, Connecticut and a former superintendent in Hernando County, Florida
James Drake, a senior engineer/superintendent for DTG Associates in California and a former associate superintendent in Gonzales, California
Art Stellar, vice president of the National Education Foundation and a former superintendent at Burke County, North Carolina and Taunton, Massachusetts
FROM FEBRUARY: Broward school board pays ousted superintendent almost $268,000, names interim
To wait or not to wait?
The School Board had originally planned to select the finalists Tuesday, but David Azzarito, the district’s executive director of human resources and equity, said he didn’t realize the board couldn’t vote during a workshop. The board can only vote during official, advertised meetings.
“That was my mistake,” he told the nine board members.
The School Board will either pick finalists next Tuesday or seek more applicants. Zeman, for one, said they hope to advance some from the current pool.
“All we need is one great superintendent so you can have a weak or an OK or whatever you want to describe the whole list,” he said, adding he sees a “handful of good candidates” and wants community feedback about them.
If the board picks finalists, the search firm would them to answer three questions in a nine-minute video, then invite them to visit Broward May 15-16 so board members and board-appointed stakeholders can interview them.
FROM LAST AUGUST: DeSantis suspends four Broward County School Board members, appoints replacements