Board fires schools chief after Parkland massacre report

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The superintendent of Florida’s second largest school district was fired following a late-night motion brought up by a board member appointed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis following a grand jury report into the Parkland school massacre.

The board voted 5-4 to fire Broward Schools Superintendent Vickie Cartwright, who didn’t hold the post at the time of the 2018 shooting, after Broward school board member Daniel Foganholi brought up the surprise motion Monday night.

All five board members voting against Cartwright in Florida’s most Democratic-leaning county were appointed by DeSantis, a Republican. 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. Her husband was in the audience, but declined to comment.

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 school board members said the motion was unfair since they had just 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 SunSentinel reported. The newspaper said one public speaker, who regularly attends school board meetings, addressed the issue, and supported the superintendent’s firing.

The board called a special meeting on 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 in 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, who brought up the motion, had been appointed to the board earlier by DeSantis.

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

Broward’s school district is the nation’s sixth-largest, with more than 270,000 students at 333 campuses and an annual budget of $4 billion.