The Volusia County School Board unexpectedly voted 3-2 to terminate Superintendent Scott Fritz's contract without cause, effective immediately, during the board's meeting on Tuesday, April 12. VCS Human Resources Director Rachel Hazel will serve as interim superintendent.
The decision to fire Fritz was made swiftly after the board returned from a 25-minute break from a board action item regarding succession planning, as Fritz announced on March 28 that he would not be extending his contract, which was set to expire on Dec. 1. Fritz was hired in 2019, and his decision to leave VCS came after School Board members opted to evaluate him before considering extending his contract for three years during what was a somewhat contentious meeting on Feb. 22.
Upon the board's return from the break — called for in order to allow School Board attorney Ted Doran to confirm two of the VCS employees named by board members as candidates for interim superintendent were willing to serve — School Board Chair Ruben Colon said Fritz "made it very clear to me that he does not want to be here by his actions," and stated he would support the motion made earlier by School Board member Jamie Haynes to terminate his contract.
"It's not what I came here to do, but I do not believe that our employees should be subjected to what I was just subjected to a few minutes ago," said Colon as Fritz shook his head.
Fritz will receive a payout of $186,843.92, per his contract. Since he was terminated without cause, this sum includes 20 weeks of severance.
School Board members Carl Persis and Linda Cuthbert voted against the termination of his contract.
Prior to the board's meeting, the board held a workshop to discuss succession plans, and Cuthbert said Fritz, the district's third superintendent in seven and a half years, was being "forced out." The district's last two superintendents also clashed with the board: the late Tom Russell, who served from 2015 until his termination in 2019 and later became the principal at Flagler Palm Coast High School; and Margaret Smith, who resigned in 2015, two years before she planned to retire after issues with a previous board member.
New superintendent candidates could be deterred by this, and Cuthbert said at the workshop she's heard the board has been called "toxic" as a result.
"I've heard that five letter word used quite a bit," Cuthbert said. "We're toxic — that there's a revolt. Well, I see the revolt right here."
The board also discussed the possibility of hiring former Deputy Superintendent Carmen Balgobin, who is now at Broward County Public Schools, if she would be willing to return to VCS.
During the board meeting, Haynes said that this is a time where decisions are being made to set the foundation for next school year. The main focus should be the students, and the email Fritz sent out about his decision regarding his contract caused additional stress and unrest, she added. She then motioned to terminate Fritz's contract immediately and ask someone within the district to step in as interim in the meantime.
"I personally have never been able to work in a situation where I wondered if I did one thing wrong, was I going to be shown the door," Haynes said. "Or if I stepped up and asked question, that would be looked at like the wrong thing."
Persis said that the termination wasn't necessary, and pointed out that the interim would need to be selected "on the fly." Last time, the board "methodically" decided over a couple of months who would serve in the interim, he said.
"That's the position you would find yourself in, and it's not necessary because we have so much going on as we said in our workshop," Persis said. "I don't think anything's changed since 3 o'clock when we talked about it until now."
Persis tried to convince his fellow board members not to "push the panic button," and take away one of the district heads from their duties without a plan, and before they know if Balgobin would be willing to return as superintendent.
Prior to the board's break, the board was discussing holding a special meeting next week to continue the discussion and contact the Florida School Boards Association. Shortly after Colon announced a 15 minute break, Fritz tapped him on the arm and the two left the school board chambers. The break was later extended by another 10 minutes.
After the board's vote, Fritz thanked his supporters and those who helped him over the last two and half years in VCS, a period of time he said will "still remain one of the high points" of his three decades in public education.
"There's great things happening here in Volusia County," Fritz said. "Nobody wants change, but sometimes it's necessary. I will tell you that when I was hired here, I was asked to make change, and I think we've done that."
At the end of the meeting, board members congratulated Hazel in her new interim position, but acknowledged that they didn't see Fritz's termination happening so suddenly.
"The meeting went a lot different than I was anticipating to be honest, and I just want us all to heal and move forward," School Board member Anita Burnette said.
Persis expressed similar sentiments.
"Things got pretty raw, pretty awkward, pretty tense at times," Persis said. "But I think we managed it pretty well, and I'm happy for that."
Hazel thanked the board members for their confidence in her abilities.
"I will serve this district as I have for the past 24 years and make the best decisions for our kids, and start with our kids first and our employees second," she said.