Broward Schools Superintendent Vickie Cartwright will get to keep her job – for now.
But she will not only have to work hard to do so, she also will have to overcome skeptical board members and community leaders. And while some believe she deserves a second chance, others do not.
During a Tuesday meeting, the Broward County School Board voted 5-3 to rescind the decision to fire her made by the board members appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The school board promised to review her employment status on Jan. 24. They also said they will conduct a national search for a replacement if needed.
Under the current arrangement, if Cartwright makes a positive impression on the board and makes significant improvements over the next six weeks, she might get to stay on. But if the board again decides to fire her without cause, she can stay for another 60 days, which is in her contract. If she is fired for cause, she would leave immediately but would be entitled to due process.
Chief among board members' concerns is an audit showing that families had been collectively overcharged by a vendor more than $330,000 for graduation cap and gowns in the span of a year. The Sun Sentinel has reported the same company "could potentially face a criminal investigation" as well.
Following the board's Tuesday decision, Cartwright told reporters, “The board committed to me that they’re going to have an open mind when they come back and take a look at the update that will be provided, and I have full confidence in what they said.”
Lori Alhadeff, who now chairs the board, voted against retaining Cartwright. So did DeSantis appointee Torey Alston, who remains on the board, and newly-elected member Brenda Fam.
“We are delaying the inevitable," Alhadeff said. "We’re kicking the can, leaving the district shaky, not knowing what’s going to happen.”
The board members who voted to retain Cartwright were Debbi Hixon, Jeff Holness, Sarah Leonardi, Nora Rupert and Allen Zeman.
DeSantis had removed four board members following a grand jury report completed in April 2021 that was released earlier this year. Major problems included the overall atmosphere and culture among high-level district personnel. There were lingering safety concerns related to the 2018 shooting at Parkland's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in which 17 students and staff members were killed. And there were questions over the $800 million bond referendum for school construction and renovations, under which significant amounts of work had not been completed.
The members DeSantis appointed soon became known as the 'reform board.' That panel agreed to fire Cartwright in November, but because of her contract she was to stay on for 60 more days.
Because of Tuesday’s vote, Cartwright is still on a 90-day program to correct the problems identified by the grand jury. That clock has been running since Oct. 25. Holness suggested restarting the 90 days, which would give her until March, but the rest of the board didn't go along.
Zeman said he believes the firing was unfair to Cartwright, explaining that because the board gave her 90 days to make improvements, they should have honored that promise. Zeman, however, wants to have a job search in the event a replacement is needed after Jan. 24.
“The job of superintendent of Broward County is an amazingly challenging and difficult job. We need a great leader,” he said.
Cartwright, previously the superintendent of schools for the Oshkosh Area School District in Wisconsin, replaced former Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie. He resigned last year after being charged with lying to the grand jury after the Parkland shooting.
Cartwright on Thursday attended a ground breaking event for a new building at Margate Elementary School. She told City & State she is looking forward to serving until at least late January.
"I have prepared myself to run a large school system like Broward County," she said. “I cannot allow the pressure I have been facing for the past few months to get to me. I have to be focused on providing the best educational environment possible for the kids. For me it is all about taking care of the students."
David Volz has been a reporter for numerous community news publications throughout South Florida over the past two decades, as well as the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and South Florida Business Journal. He covers city government, schools, sports, culture, faith groups and workplaces.