School board to pick semi-finalists in superintendent search


The county searches for its third superintendent in less than 2 years.

The Broward County Public School Board plans to narrow its superintendent search by selecting semi-finalists during today’s board meeting. They’ll then select finalists on May 30. It remains to be seen if the board will be satisfied with its options, as it previously extended the application deadline in response to a lackluster candidate pool.

Broward County began searching for a new superintendent after Vickie Cartwright resigned from the position in mid-February. In that time only 26 candidates applied and only 15 met basic requirements such as having a master’s degree. The search firm hired by the board to find the candidates recommended just six of them for serious consideration.

The board was less than impressed when they saw the initial pool in a May 2 board meeting. Board member Torey Alston called it “absolutely weak” and compared it to a “junior varsity list.” 

Multiple reasons have been floated around as to why the search received so few applicants. One factor is Florida’s Sunshine Law, which stipulates that candidates for government jobs must release their names publicly once they apply. Ralph Ferrie, director of the search firm, said that multiple superintendents were interested in applying but wanted to do it anonymously.

“My response to them [was] that’s not how the law works in Florida,” Ferrie said at the May 2 board meeting. “But there were several, very successful superintendents who would’ve liked to have that opportunity.”

There’s also concern that state and local politics are drawing candidates away. 

“There’s a lot of micromanagement happening in our state, and the respect and dignity of education is just not where it should be for us to be attracting candidates,” board vice chair Debra Hixon said at the same meeting.

Cartwright, who served for just one year, faced a good deal of political turmoil during her short tenure. In November of last year she was fired by 5 board members who were appointed by the governor, but was rehired by a new board after that year’s elections, before ultimately deciding to resign on her own. Ferrie commented on this as well.

“Why would I give up if I’m on a contract with five years […] to come where I’ve seen turnover in superintendents like a revolving door?” Ferrie said at the May 2 meeting.

These factors led the board to vote 8-1 to extend the search’s deadline by a week after it originally expired on May 9. While the extension allowed anyone to submit new applications, the board particularly wanted to make room for Clark County superintendent Jesús Jara, who contacted Board Chair Lori Alhadeff after the initial deadline. 

Leading the Las Vegas-based 5th largest school district in the country, Jara fit the board’s hopes for someone who could serve in Broward, the 6th largest district. But just as quickly as he entered the running, Jara dropped out.

“After being urged to apply, I am honored to be considered for the superintendent position in Broward County,” he said in a statement to the Sun-Sentinel. “Clark County is my home, and I am committed to this community and our kids.”

Only two qualified candidates applied during the extended window, and one previous candidate actually withdrew their application.

Still, the board remains determined to find a great superintendent. Some members stress the need to consider various candidates and not rush the process. The sole vote against extending the deadline came from Alston, who felt that the extension wasn’t long enough. Board member Daniel Foganholi also stressed the need to take time as he voted with the rest of the board. 

“I’m not looking for a superintendent, I’m looking for the superintendent,” he said at the May 9 meeting.