On a night that the Flagler County School Board took the first step in its search for a new superintendent, Board member Will Furry called for a censure of Chair Cheryl Massaro.
While board members, including Furry, later assured that they could work together in choosing a new superintendent, just as they have on other issues, Furry’s motion at the April 18 board meeting showed that the board continues to be divided.
Ultimately, his motion was defeated 3-2 with Sally Hunt hesitating before voting against it.
During a contentious special meeting on April 4, Hunt had voted with Furry and Christy Chong to let Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt’s contract run out and replace her with a new leader for Flagler Schools. Massaro and Colleen Conklin were the only board members who voted to retain Mittelstadt.
Furry’s motion to censure Massaro, centered on a video Massaro posted on her School Board Facebook page on April 10. Massaro began with a summary of recent School Board discussions before going on to say she has lost trust in the board.
“I believe that three of our five school board members do not have Flagler Schools, all students, their families and communities’ best interest as their priority,” she said before singling out each of the board members who voted not to renew Mittelstadt’s contract, without mentioning them by name.
“One school board member does not appear to believe in or understand public schools. Another member is greatly influenced by numerous outside local and state political action groups and other entities who obviously does not understand Flagler Schools. And a third who doesn't seem to have enough time in the day to research agenda items and develop independent unbiased decisions,” Massaro said in the video.
It is clear that some of the comments that you made about your fellow board members were unacceptable and divisive and not true.” — WILL FURRY on BoardChair Cheryl Massaro
Furry brought up the censure motion in old business. School Board Attorney Kristy Gavin said a censure is an admonition by the other board members but would not involve removing the board member from their position.
“It is clear,” Furry said, “that some of the comments that you made about your fellow board members were unacceptable and divisive and not true. And saying things like we don't have the best interest of Flagler schools, that you've lost trust in us, this is unacceptable for a board chair to communicate.”
He said Massaro violated the board’s procedure manual by not following Robert’s Rules of Order when she adjourned the special meeting immediately after the vote without calling for closing comments.
Massaro also violated policy, Furry said, by not promoting a cooperative team atmosphere and not setting aside personal views while speaking on behalf of the board.
“So, it is true that you've lost trust in us, Chair Massaro. When we were elected, we weren't elected for you,” Furry said. “As a matter of fact, I think that after those comments that you need to work on regaining the trust of all the thousands of people that voted for us to make that decision.”
Massaro, in her closing comments, said she ended the meeting after the vote out of advisement for the public’s safety.
“Things got really out of hand … and I didn't want it to escalate, because I have been on this board, and it's been very frightening being up here,” she said.
Chong, who voted with Furry for the censure, said Massaro set a precedent for the future of the board on how they will choose to treat each other.
“I've lost confidence in you as well,” Chong told Massaro. “I thought we were off to a great start. It's not OK to be so divisive just because a vote did not go your way. I find this to be unprofessional and a form of intimidation and control that I will not tolerate.”
Hunt said she has been disappointed “by really almost a campaign to discredit and disparage,” and that Massaro has contributed to a "gross narrative."
"I now exist as this villain which is just gross,” she said. "If you watch the footage from the workshops you will hear me fighting for working parents, saving them money, saving paraprofessionals money.”
Before Furry made his motion, Conklin said the conversation was inappropriate. If there were concerns, she said, they could have been shared during the workshop earlier in the day, “instead of putting a show on for everyone else.”
But Furry said that when the board chair speaks on her School Board Facebook page, “it is perceived that she is speaking the voice of the board, so I think it is very relevant that we’re having this conversation.”
Massaro said when she was speaking to reporters about the vote and when she was opining on her video, it was as an individual, not as the board chair. And she defended her remarks.
“The things you claim I did to you, you did to (Mittelstadt),” Massaro said. “I find that extremely abrasive and offensive. The idea was to work close together as a team and build a team concept. At the special meeting, you had all of your minds made up before you got here and disregarded the public that was here, which was embarrassing.”
Thirty of 32 public speakers at the special meeting spoke in favor of retaining Mittelstadt.
Chong said those 30 people were not a fair representation of the people in the county.
“I've heard multiple times now about how 30 people came out and supported our superintendent,” Chong said. “However, 30 people do not represent the entirety of 120,000 people who live in Flagler County or the majority of the people who overwhelmingly voted for us to represent them. And they do not have to be here, because they voted for us to represent them. This is not about one group of people trying to influence a vote. Everyone equally has the freedom of speech to say where they stand. And many of the people who came out to speak in support of the superintendent also came from their own special interest groups as well.”