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Pressure builds on Escambia School Superintendent to step down

Escambia County School District
Escambia County School Superintendent Tim Smith is fighting to keep his job.

Escambia County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Tim Smithcontinues to be on the hot seat, with District 1 Representative Michelle Salzmannow calling for his resignation. But, Smith has no plans to leave on his own.

On Wednesday, Salzman sent a letter to the superintendent and school board, requesting Dr. Smith resign with a 90-day notice.

Photo courtesy of Michelle Salzman
District 1 Republican State Rep. Michelle Salzman

“He’s a great guy, smart statesman; I’m certain he’s a great educator. But, we need somebody who can make the hard decisions and move the needle forward,” said Salzman, suggesting Smith has been ineffective.

She acknowledged that he inherited most of the issues that continue to plague the district.

“Every day we have kids dropping out, getting pregnant, getting addicted to drugs, attempting suicide, getting into fights, getting expelled; teachers don’t feel safe at work,” she stated, while adding Smith hasn’t been proactive enough to capitalize on much of what’s been offered to help.

“We have got to accept the resources within the community and these community partners so we can actually provide some resources to these teachers and these families that need it so badly.”

For example, she said the superintendent failed to follow through on her efforts to secure state funding for the expansion of mental services to be provided to the families of students.

Salzman points to a building frustration with Smith in the community.

The situation intensified during a lengthy, arduous special meeting on Feb. 20 dealing with an appeal of three challenged books, after the superintendent followed the advice of counsel and declined District 1 School Board Member Kevin Adams’ request for him to unilaterally remove such books.

Salzman finally decided to weigh in when Adams followed with a proposal that his colleagues revisit the 2018 vote approving the switch to an appointed superintendent and consider reverting back to an elected one.

“I disagree with trying to do such a dramatic move when we haven’t even attempted to hire someone else to see if it’s the person and not the system that we put so much work into putting into place,” she explained.

The second-term Republican legislator says if board members want Smith to go, they should use the powers they now have by asking him to resign or voting to fire him.

For his part, the superintendent says they will have to make that decision.

“I’m committed to this district. I’m just not quitting,” he proclaimed, adding that he doesn’t think people should ask him to quit at this point.

Escambia County School District Superintendent Tim Smith
Escambia County School District
Escambia County School District Superintendent Tim Smith

“I don’t think quitting is the strategy for us to go. I don’t think quitting our governance structure after two years of an appointed superintendent, I don’t think it makes sense. I don’t think it’s responsible and I think we should quit on that. Quite frankly, I don’t think people should quit on me.”

As superintendent, Smith acknowledges the buck stops with him, but he believes it’s unfair to judge his performance on a job he’s only held since 2020 in a district with huge issues that will take time to address.

He questions whether hiring someone else or changing the governance structure would make a significant difference.

“Are they going to be able to move the needle on the achievement gap that’s been around for decades, are they going to change the labor shortage, are they going to mitigate all these challenges that have taken place?” he asked, suggesting it’s possible.

“But, my point on this is these are big society issues that are impacting our schools.”

In response to Salzman’s claims regarding his effectiveness and responsiveness to help offered, Smith said he doesn’t think he’s cast a “blind eye” or “deaf ear” to those efforts.

However, he said would like more time to improve on district successes such as career technical education and implement some of his planned initiatives to include working with the community on early learning and procuring more funding for intervention teachers for elementary students struggling with reading and math.

Smith may soon find out if he will be able to see his plans through.

Adams said he plans to bring a resolution to the board regarding the position at this month’s regular meeting on Mar 21.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.