© 2023 | WUWF Public Media
11000 University Parkway
Pensacola, FL 32514
850 474-2787
NPR for Florida's Great Northwest
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Escambia School Board votes to fire embattled Superintendent Tim Smith

In a surprise move Tuesday night, the Escambia County School Board voted to terminate Dr. Tim Smith, the District's first appointed superintendent, after less than three years at the helm.

The motion to fire Smith was made by Board Chairman Paul Fetsko, after the panel voted, without discussion, to accept Smith’s performance evaluation.

“With that having happened, I did not want to talk about specifics of the evaluation. But, I’m making a motion to terminate the superintendent’s contract as of May 31, 2023,” said Fetsko.

The board chair said, for him, the superintendent fell short in the areas of leadership and communication, most recently in his handling of negotiations for a charter at Warrington Middle School, which the school board is under the gun to get “signed, sealed, and delivered” by Thursday.

“The efforts with this Renaissance Charter agreement have been horrendous, and there’re other things. The pulse of the principals, other people, the staff, there’s no feeling of their being led,” he stated.

Fetsko won the support of board members David Williams and Kevin Adams. It was Adams, who in February led an effort to terminate Smith and hold a referendum to go back to an elected superintendent over the process of removing inappropriate books.

Patty Hightower and Bill Slayton voted against the termination. Slayton said he found it remarkable that Fetsko would put the district into this type of turmoil at this particular time.

“I’ve been through nine superintendents, nothing has ever been smooth,” Slayton began. “Every time we change, we have turmoil in the district. We have change in the leadership, we have things that change. This is no time to be doing this.”

Smith has been the district’s top executive for less than three years, appointed in 2020.

He appeared to be a bit caught off guard by Tuesday's recommendation to terminate and lashed out at Fetsko and Adams, calling them out for their divisiveness and constant efforts to undermine him.

“I’m telling you, there’s something bad that exists here. There’s something toxic that exists here,” he declared, when it was his turn to speak. “You all want to fire me. I think the answer would be for the two of you to resign your positions, really. What’s the difference? Is it you or me, right? I guess you outnumber me.”

During his remarks, Smith acknowledged that he has shortcomings, but disagreed with the statement about his lack of leadership in the schools.

The vote to fire the superintendent came at the end of a long meeting that included last minute wrangling to finalize a charter school contract Renaissance Charter Schools. The education provider has been selected by Charter Schools USA to operate a charter school as part of the Turnaround Plan for Warrington Middle School beginning in the fall.

At an emergency meeting Tuesday morning, the Florida Board of Education gave the school district 48 hours to conclude more than a year of negotiations and get the deal done.

In his final comments, Smith expressed concerns about the future of the Escambia County School District and its many challenges with poverty and attendance issues.

“I appreciate the opportunity over the past two-and-a-half years,” he said. “I wish I had not disappointed you, gave it my best. I thank those of you who have been supportive. Thank you, very much; I appreciate your leadership and I wish you well.”

Smith’s last day will be May 31. Keith Leonard, Director of Human Resource Services, has been chosen as interim superintendent.

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.