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Broward's school board fires its superintendent after report on the Parkland massacre

 Broward County Schools Superintendent Vickie Cartwright, seen in this Aug. 24 photo, informed three longtime administrators Thursday they need to resign or go on leave while they are investigated.
Carline Jean
South Florida Sun Sentinel
Broward County Schools Superintendent Vickie Cartwright, seen in this Aug. 24 photo, informed three longtime administrators Thursday they need to resign or go on leave while they are investigated.

The Broward County schools superintendent was fired Monday in the wake of a grand jury report into the Parkland massacre after a late-night motion by a board member appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The board voted 5-4 to fire Superintendent Vickie Cartwright, who has held the position since summer 2021. The vote took place after member Daniel Foganholi brought up the surprise motion during a board meeting Monday.

The district has been embroiled in controversy since a grand jury investigation into the Parkland shooting uncovered unrelated allegations of mismanagement. A former official was charged with contract-rigging, a former superintendent with perjury and four school board members were eventually removed.

Separately, audits reported in October of two contracts with long term vendors — one for caps and gowns and the other for training and education management — found that parents and the district were overcharged some $1.4 million.

Cartwright has frequently been criticized for failing to fix a district culture that allowed waste and corruption, and the board unanimously reprimanded her in October and gave her 90 days to report on her progress.

The five board members voting against Cartwright in Florida's most Democratic-leaning county were appointed by DeSantis, a Republican who has said he wants to prioritize accountability in the county. Four of those appointees will be gone next week when they will be replaced by board members who won elections last week.

Cartwright didn’t comment about the firing.

The dissenting school board members included Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter was killed in the shooting and Debra Hixon, whose husband was also fatally shot in the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“Dr. Vickie Cartwright is a wonderful individual, but leading the nation’s sixth-largest school district requires a hands-on leader and someone that will make real change,” Torey Alston, who was elected last week, said in a statement. “Based on recent systemic issues, the board decided to go in a different direction.”

Cartwright replaced Robert Runcie, who resigned in 2021 after perjury charges were brought against him.

“There are some great people who work for this organization, but toxic behavior continues to happen,” Foganholi said in making the motion. “This is about accountability.”

Some board members said the motion was unfair since they had asked Cartwright on Oct. 25 to address a long list of concerns.

“This action is impulsive and inappropriate at this moment, and I cannot support this,” Leonardi said.

The meeting was publicly advertised, but there was nothing on the agenda suggesting that Cartwright would be fired, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported. The newspaper said one public speaker, who regularly attends school board meetings, addressed the issue and supported the firing.

The board called a special meeting for Tuesday to address hiring an interim replacement.

Foganholi didn't have enough votes when he first brought up the motion, with two DeSantis appointees speaking out against the move. They later agreed to it, with Kevin Tynan being the deciding vote after asking for a minute to think about it.

Cartwright was named interim superintendent last August and was hired permanently in February. Her contract, which goes through late 2024, requires her to be given 60 days notice. She is also entitled to about $134,600 in severance pay.

The motion to fire her came at the end of the board's discussion of two audits criticizing the district's practices.

Since DeSantis removed and replaced four board members in August, Cartwright has been frequently accused of failing to fix a problematic culture in the district. Foganholi had been appointed to the board earlier by DeSantis.

Former Stoneman Douglas student Nikolas Cruz, 24, was sentenced to life in prison this month after pleading guilty to the school shootings in 2021.

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