Call him 'Superintendent Licata': Broward school board finally approves contract with new chief

'I am as excited as I've ever been,' Licata said. 'It’s just going to be phenomenal...'

Peter Licata speaks to reporters after being voted the new Superintendent of Broward County Public Schools, June 15, 2023.

Peter Licata speaks to reporters after being voted the new Superintendent of Broward County Public Schools, June 15, 2023. Photo by Gerard Albert III/WLRN News

It’s official: Dr. Peter Licata has begun his new job leading Broward County Public Schools effective immediately, after the school board approved his contract Tuesday morning in a unanimous vote.

Following three hours of negotiations, Licata will start with a lower salary and less job security than he had wanted. The confirmation came two weeks later than expected, after insufficient board members showed up for the original vote at the end of June.

Previous coverage 

Still, for Licata it’s the culmination of a three-decade long career in public education, spent right over the county line in the School District of Palm Beach County.

“I am as excited as I've ever been,” Licata said. “It’s just going to be phenomenal — the next three years … maybe four, maybe five.”

From the onset, board members have said what the district needs is a change agent capable of reforming a workplace culture some have described as toxic and retaliatory. In Licata, they’re looking for someone who can deliver strong and stable leadership.

“We strive to ensure this process was transparent in order to find the best candidate to hold this critical position — a transformational leader. We found that person in Dr. Licata,” said Board Chair Lori Alhadeff. “We are so excited to work with him to ensure that our students receive the world class education they deserve.”

Licata says he’s ready to deliver.

“We want to be known as a district that is student-centered, that is teacher-supported and principal-led,” Licata said. “When we make that the priority, we get the results.”

What’s in the contract

Under the three-year contract Licata negotiated with the board, he’ll be paid an annual base salary of $350,000, running through July 11, 2026. That’s $10,000 less than he had argued for. Licata will also get a vehicle allowance of $1,200 a month for the use of his personal car for district business.

Additionally, Licata will be eligible for an annual $10,000 bonus if the school district achieves an overall A grade and an additional $10,000 bonus if the district meets its goals for completing the SMART Bond construction projects by 2025.

In a late addition brought by Board Member Torey Alston, Licata will be required to move to Broward County within a year, and can be reimbursed up to $10,000 for moving costs. Licata and his wife currently live in Boynton Beach.

Less job protection than Licata wanted

Licata had negotiated for an additional measure of job protection — in the event that the board decided to terminate him without cause, Licata wanted it to take a supermajority of six members instead of a simple majority of five.

“I don't want to be negative, but your recent history is not positive,” Glen Torcivia, Licata’s attorney, told the board.

“The great staff that you have, they all want to know that their superintendent is going to be their superintendent and not be gone in six months or 10 months or 12 months due to something that's outside everyone's control — whether it's an election, whether it's the governor suspending or appointing … all those things that you unfortunately have been through,” Torcivia said.

The supermajority provision was shot down by the board in a five to four vote. After an extended negotiation with board members on Tuesday, Licata relented — contingent on a “friendly agreement” that a year from now, that the board reconsider the supermajority clause.

“The longevity of superintendents is not good in the state of Florida. I want to buck that trend,” Licata said. “I have to trust them right now. And they're trusting me to lead this district to the next level.”

Under the deal, if Licata is terminated without cause, the district will pay him 20 weeks’ worth of pay — an amount that some board members had argued for reducing. According to Vice Chair Debbi Hixon, the 20-week provision is “industry standard” for superintendent contracts.

Board approves contract nearly two weeks later than initially planned

The board had been scheduled to vote on Licata’s contract on June 29, but not enough school board members showed up to the meeting. The delay in approving Licata’s employment agreement had cast a shadow over his future in the district, at a time when state officials are increasingly exerting pressure on local affairs.

Last year, Gov. Ron DeSantis removed four Broward school board members from office, setting in motion a dramatic shift in the body’s makeup.

The president of the Broward Teachers Union, Anna Fusco, had claimed the absences of three of the board’s conservative-leaning members was politically motivated, an assertion they denied. Speaking to reporters after the June 29 meeting, Licata had downplayed the situation, chalking it up to a scheduling conflict that was simply ‘delaying the inevitable.’

“I got everything I wanted in getting this job,” Licata told reporters on Tuesday. “Everything else is on the side.”

In becoming the top leader for the nation’s sixth largest school district, Licata is taking on a slate of challenges that districts across the country are reckoning with — declining enrollments, staff shortages, aging infrastructure, and the continuing effects of the pandemic on students’ achievement and wellbeing.

But many of the challenges facing the district are specific to Broward County — a revolving door of leaders, complaints of mismanagement and dysfunction, and the lasting legacy of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

One of Licata’s first tasks is expected to be overseeing the planned demolition of the school’s 1200 building, where the deadly shooting took place. In the five years since the tragedy, the building has been preserved as a crime scene for use in the court trials that followed.

Licata takes top job after three decades in public education

Licata is a career educator who worked his way up in the School District of Palm Beach County, first as a teacher and a coach before becoming an assistant principal, principal and then a district administrator.

Since 2019, Licata has served as the district’s South Region Superintendent, overseeing 60 schools right next to Broward. He’s consistently touted SDPBC’s track record as an A-rated district, saying he can use that district’s formula of success to lift Broward from a B to an A.

“We have one job — educate children. Everything else supports that,” Licata said. “I will hold everyone accountable as I am held accountable. We have to do that to make sure children succeed.”

This story is published as part of a collaboration with WLRN News. Kate Payne is WLRN's education reporter. Reach her at kpayne@wlrnnews.org.

NEXT STORY: ‘Getting honest’ about Miami-Dade County’s trash dilemma