An attempt by School Board members Will Furry and Christy Chong to censure Cheryl Massaro, the board’s chair, over personal statements she’d made on social media about three of her colleagues failed, 3-2, Tuesday evening.
The motion and the discussion surrounding it had elements of the surreal, as most school board meetings now do. Massaro’s comments were cutting, but nowhere near the slanders Chong and Furry had peddled during their campaign a few months ago, when they portrayed their opponents as criminals, lied about them “indoctrinating” children or pushing sexually explicit books on kindergarteners, or when only two weeks ago they’d capped months of baseless accusations and unspoken (or at least unopposed) bigotry against the superintendent with a vote to fire her. Last night, they spoke as if transfigured into paragons of virtue.
The vote took place not long after the board unanimously agreed to contract with the Florida School Board Association to shepherd the board through the hiring of its next superintendent, its sixth since 2010. The board voted 3-2 on April 4 not to renew Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt’s contract when it expires in June. Mittelstadt is carrying on until her last day.
The vote, countering significant public support for Mittelstadt and lacking justifications other than vague statements and unsubstantiated generalities by the three board members in the majority, angered Massaro, who made her feelings known on April 10 in one of her recurring Facebook updates on board business.
“I would like to take a moment to share some personal thoughts,” Massaro had prefaced, after talking about some of the last meetings’ developments. “As a school board member I am required to support every decision made by the board and will do my best to assist with the process of securing an available replacement for superintendent’s position. However, I would like to share that I personally lost trust in this board, and it will take a great deal of time to regain this very important factor needed for successful team process. At this point, 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 was referring to Furry, Chong and Hunt, about whom she spoke in turn in sharp terms, accusing them of “making decisions based solely on their personal agendas and ideology, as well as on their interests and external entities,” a reference that includes their hard-right church constituencies and the local chamber of commerce. She added: “I was taught that if you work hard and do what is right, you will be rewarded. Obviously this is not all true in Flagler County. However, I promise to continue to make the best decision for every student and staff member, as I always have, and work hard to rebuild board stability.”
The posting did not get a very large viewership–334 views, as of Tuesday evening, 13 comments from 10 people, including a bemusing “Hi Cheryl” and the emoji of a hand waving from Chong.
Near the end of Tuesday evening’s meeting’s agenda, Furry brought up the statement, calling some of the comments “unacceptable and divisive and not true.” He singled out the part about not having the best interest of schools, and criticized Massaro for adjourning the special meeting that ended Mittelstadt’s tenure, immediately after the vote, without giving the board time for final comments. (Massaro this evening said it was a safety measure that had been discussed ahead of time–she did not say with whom–because the meeting was in her view getting out of hand. While it’s true that a few people in the audience verbalized their dissatisfaction at the vote, the chamber was nowhere near as tense or dangerous as it had been at a few meetings in the wake of the Covid pandemic over a year and two years ago. Even if there was a need to suspend proceedings, as has happened before, the meeting would have then had to be reconvened and could not arbitrarily be ended.)
Furry was misreading board rules, however, when he said Massaro had violated her responsibility “for promoting a cooperative team atmosphere among the superintendent board members, board attorney and the board.” That responsibility, as any local government attorney would tell (as as one told FlaglerLive after the meeting) him prevails at meetings and during board functions, but it does not necessarily extend to Massaro’s personal statements, especially statements that addressed board decisions and board motives, from her perspective: an elected official never gives up First Amendment rights. He then accused her of losing voters’ trust.
“I’ve lost confidence in you as well,” Chong told Massaro. “I thought we were off to a great start. It’s not okay to be so divisive just because the vote did not go your way. I find this to be unprofessional and a form of an intimidation and control that I will not tolerate. And I think that we should possibly consider that there could be consequences for that.” Not 50 minutes later, in another startling display of selective memory, Chong said: ” Everyone equally has the freedom of speech to say where they’re at and where they stand.”
Hunt spoke in turn, though characteristically did so mostly about herself, her grievances and her “tremendous background for this role” (her words), mischaracterizing others along the way.
Board member Colleen Conklin lambasted the three for bringing up the issue moments after deciding on the next steps to hire a superintendent, and to do so at the evening meeting. “I think it’s inappropriate, as we’re sitting here getting ready to do a national superintendent search, that we’re continuing to have this conversation on the dais,” Conklin said. “If there were concerns they certainly could have been shared during the workshop, instead of putting a show on for everyone else.” In fairness to the sanctimonious trio, however, the workshop had run late, as workshops now routinely do, and had to be adjourned to give the board time for a brief break before the evening.
Furry said it made no difference whether the issue was brought up in workshop or at the evening meeting: both are broadcast. But he could not have made the motion to censure Massaro had he brought it up at the workshop, as he now did even after Massaro again stressed that she’d spoken only as herself as an individual, not for the board.
“All the things you claimed I did to you, you did to her,” Massaro told the three, referring to the way they’d shredded Mittelstadt’s reputation, “and I find that extremely abrasive and offensive. Everything you mentioned, very offensive. The idea was to work close together as a team and build a team concept. That special meeting you had all of your mind’s made up before you got here.” She asked them where the constituents they claimed supported them were that evening, when they voted to end the superintendent’s contract, and 30 of 32 people spoke in favor of retaining her. Furry’s response was that he was elected by constituents who sent him to do the work so they could stay home with their families.
He made the motion to censure, Chong seconded, the vote was taken, with Furry and Chong voting for it and Massaro and Conklin voting against. Then there was silence. Hunt had not voted. It was 30 seconds before she finally cast a vote against the motion.
The board members’ final comments were yet to come. They had to follow a few public comments that added to the surrealism. There was one from Jearlyn Dennie, the GOP operative who had been County Commissioner Joe Mullins’s whisperer through his most bigoted slanders, threats and personal attacks on social media, in public, against cops and even on the dais in four years as a county commissioner, when he called fellow commissioners sons of bitches. She had never once criticized him through incessant vileness that had nothing to do with public policy, yet here she was describing herself incensed at Massaro, who had only addressed public policy, for her “lack of professionalism on social media.”
Dennie was merely disingenuous. Another member of the public was more debased when she wondered aloud to board members why student’s scores would fall when “this is not some low socioeconomic zone, we don’t have a huge immigration population.” Or when Jill Woolbright, the former school board member who’d filed a frivolous criminal complaint against Mittelstadt and who had compared fellow-board members and school administrators to Satan, now telling the board that “it is not proper to go on your public official School Board page and disparage three school board members.” In fairness to Woolbright, she had called her colleagues and district staffers evil only from a church stage.
Those were Furry’s and Chong’s supporters who did turn out Tuesday evening.
When it came time for the board members’ final comments, those continued the mixture of cringe-worthy grievances, condescension, some good will, and more head-shaking mischaracterizations about the job of an elected official.
“I will say right now that I forgive chair Massaro For my perception of what happened,” Furry said, as if suddenly throned in a pontifical chair.
“And chair,” Chong told her, “I know you mentioned that you were speaking as yourself and I understand that but I work for a large company. I’ve always worked in big companies, and if I were to go out publicly and talk about my co-workers, it would be inappropriate and I would be fired. That’s how it works in the world.” Of course it’s not how it works for elected officials, whose allegiance–as Furry had told Massaro–is not to each other: “We weren’t elected to work for you,” he’d told her. They answer only to their constituents, who get to retain or fire them at election time.
Hunt lamented about the torment of being Hunt (“it’s really hard to evaluate a situation really do your work and to to, you know, be open to different ideas and different solutions and to have people just bully you and harass you”) and about greatness of being Hunt (“I’m proud to be a strong woman to make the decisions”).
Conklin spoke of the necessity for cohesion in a “beautiful community,” with a wry touch: “This is a dream of a place for someone to come in to lead us–if we allow ourselves to be led,” Conklin said.
“I’m sorry if I offended all of you and that was really not my intent. I was angry, and that was my anger coming out and I apologize for that,” Massaro said, “because I know we can work together. We need to work together.” But she’s worried about the messages being sent candidates who might apply for the superintendent’s position, assuming quality candidates, as opposed to toadies, will apply. The board’s ideological rifts leave that an open question.
“Knowing how this district has had a rotating basis for superintendents, it’s quite frightening,” Massaro said. “Every three years, we change superintendents every three years, and anybody coming in here should probably be petrified, because in three years, there’ll be a new board.” Not that the current board would be any easier to work with, as its talent for declensions week after week suggests.
Dennis C Rathsam says
One bad apple spoils bunch….We have two who are rotten to the core! I feel sorry for the kids, they deserve better. Its time to go in a different direction!
Massaro was right to apologize for her comments. I’ll give her that much…
Being “right to apologize for her comments” AND actually ACTING on that realization is what is admirable of Massaro.
Just as the two amigos are “right to apologize” for their past comments, but haven’t… it is that act which is different and that matters… and is very much of her to give, and very much for those involved to get from her, in these circumstances.
Just an opinion.
Concerned Parent says
How soon before the next election so we can vote these two out? I see they’re taking their tactics out of the DeSantis playbook- let’s censure in retaliation for saying something we don’t like. This is exactly the partisan crap we DON’T need at the local level, it’s just a school board meeting. Getting rid of a highly qualified and competent Superintendent is going to bite these two in the butt, and trying to censure people with differing views isn’t a good look.
Absolutely Disgusted says
Can we please get these two removed! A continual embarrasment and once again not focused on the students.
Two? Don’t you mean 3?
Former Teacher says
Glad Hunt finally got the intestinal fortitude to do what is right. Chery Massaro has been an excellent Board member with an impeccable Resume. Furry and Chong need to go!
Joy Mulins says
AGREED> If they are not properly doing their job can they not be fired as they so hastily did to our superintendent?
Denise Caldert says
I have known Cheryl for several years and she is a person of high standards and she has always keep on that path no matter who she is serving…disparate populations, at risk ones and all others and their parents. On the campaign trail is the only time I ever met or saw Chong Furry, and Hunt and that speaks volumes. Where did they come from and who do they serve…to me it doesn’t really matter who put you in the place your at but what you do once you get there! So all of you wake up and do what is right for the students and the taxpayers going forward and not necessarily for the greedy developers and businessmen who want the valuable excess school board land that is on the books but nott planning to be used ..
Michael Cocchiola says
The behavior of Chong and Furry is deeply disturbing. There is no doubt in my mind that they are channeling Janet McDonald and Jill Woolbright. They have picked up the swords of these culture warriors and have demonstrated their willingness to make decisions based on their aggrieved far-right beliefs.
Thus the disingenuous motion by Furry and seconded by Chong to “censure” Cheryl Massaro. Happily, it failed because of the nay vote from Sally Hunt. I gotta be honest here, I’ve been critical of Sally since her vote to fire Cathy Mittlestadt. But her stature has risen in my eyes with that nay vote. I’m still pissed, but I’ll get over it.
Do those 2 members care about Flagler students?
Other Brother Darrel says
If fascism, authoritarianism, or any dictator had a flag, it would be the one on display here right between these two numbskulls. “Who Serve” below a single star. China? Russia?
Merrill Shapiro says
A major problem with our School Board? It’s that we only have one Cheryl Massaro! We need two or three! The same is true of Colleen Conklin. Will Furry, through his efforts to have two churches “bear false witness” (by swearing to uphold Internal Revenue Code Section 501 c 3 and then endorsing him from the pulpit) has proven himself godless. Poor Christy Chong hasn’t yet figured out that prayer is permissible in schools (just not the kind of overt, public prayer she craves). My only disappointment is Cheryl Massaro’s apology. No one should need to make an apology for telling the truth!
Former Teacher says
@ Merrill Shapiro. An enthusiastic AMEN to that! Massaro and Conklin are a blessing to our school system. Hunt has definitely been disappointing. Chong and Furry need to go ASAP. Do they even read public comments? Too bad Courtney V was not elected. I personally think she would have been excellent in the position.
Glad my children are out of school and grown and don’t have to put up with this pathetic side show.
Mr Furry : you were not erected by the constituents. You were elected by the bunch of brainless DeSantis cronies. You have NO education. You DON’T belong on the School Board.
Still Outraged says
The hypocrisy of these two plus one is astounding. At least the one didn’t make things worse this time with her vote. I still believe there should be an investigation in the three who voted to fire a very fine superintendent. It continues to make absolutely no sense. Something is definitely fishy here.
Superintendent Mittlestadt has more class, grace, knowledge, work ethic, and compassion than all three of the board members and Chamber of Commerce who voted against her.
Stop The Hate says
More people who shouldn’t be anywhere near decision making when it comes to children. They have politicized school boards into MAGA/Orban playgrounds at the expense of kids. Who are these people appeasing? A failing Governor with mouse turds on his face? The guy attacking LGBTQ people when the highest per capita population of LGBTQ reside in, shop in, pay taxes in, and support this state. I’ll never understand the need to attack people that are a large portion of the money that moves around this state. Let’s be honest, without Disney, South Beach, the Keys, and a few other tourist-y places, what pulls people to FL? Not much. Other states have beaches that are just as nice, so remove those and what’s left? Disney.
Point I’m making is these school board members fall lock-step with the man that is destroying education, attacking LGBTQ people for no reason, going after Disney because they hurt his feelings, signing an extreme abortion ban requiring proof of rape (let me get my rapist to sign this note, okay??), and violating not only the state constitution but the US one as well. It’s not a good look at all. FL runs itself and doesn’t need a Governor for tourists to come. Nothing he has done has helped this economy, it’s only hurting (letting INS companies run amok doubling, tripling rates, property taxes out of control, ignoring the flooding in SFL, tarnishing this state by being a hate monger, etc) . People will come here no matter what, unless they stop coming because of him and his extreme Orban-like policies. His restrictive policies will hurt FL.
I know so many people that come here all throughout the summer for Disney and beaches, and they’re going to Disneyland instead. And when I say a lot, I mean a lot. We have a huge family and over summer, around 100 people come down. There are people here every week and we always go to Disney with them. This year, we’re flying to CA with some, going to MI with others, and going to NJ and taking a cruise, with others and there are some we won’t see now. We’re spending our extra money somewhere else. Others will too and it’s because of DeSantis, his extremism, and the sheep that follow behind not questioning why he’s being so callous and hateful and ignorant. The only thing that keeps us divided is hate and who is pushing hate? Republicans. I’m tired of the hate. It’s not who I am. Unhitch the cart from him and Trump and Orban and bring back the Republican part of old. The party of Ford, who believed in equality for all and progress. Get away from authoritarianism. It never ends well. History tells us that.
IDC if you paint yourself purple, wear a loin cloth, and sip Chablis while sitting on a puffy pillow. Hurts me none. Follow the simple, woke rules, otherwise know as moral codes, don’t harm kids, women, animals, the planet, or each other, and laugh. Laugh a lot. Smile. Enjoy the time you have because it’s not much. Blink and you’re suddenly 70. Where did it all go? Why spend all of it consumed with hate, believing lies, punishing those that are different, when you can go outside, breathe the air, feel the sun, and smile and wave to your purple Chablis-sipping loin-cloth wearing neighbor, before you live your day for you and your family, and enjoy every second before it’s too late and you’ve wasted it all on hate.
JT Taylor says
Well said! Life is too short to be consumed by hate.
Deborah Coffey says
Thank you. Spot on!
The dude says
Who could’ve possibly seen this coming?…
@ the Dude A lot of people saw this coming but couldn’t convince enough people to vote differently and, with the elections in 2024 I think it’s going to be even worse because certain groups still can’t see the truth in what’s happening to this country and it’s people. Very very Sad
Bill C says
The MAGA minded mob considers hypocrisy a virtue.
Concerned Citizen says
I hope Furry and Chong are listening.
We are tired of the discord and strife you are causing on the board. You are wasting more time with dirty politics. Than you are doing the job you were elected to do. As newly elected board members you should be learning what’s expected of you instead of these orchestrated witch hunts. That are wasting valuable resources and time.
As school board members you have one important job only. And that’s to look after the welfare of our students we entrust to you. The two of you and Sally Hunt have failed miserably on all accounts. And we as a community are tired of it.
To the readers of FL and voters of Flagler County.
I have posted emails and phone numbers to this forum before. I sincerely hope you are utilizing them. Light those phones and in boxes up. let them know how you feel. Also there is a recall process. Why are we not utilizing it? All 3 board members have lost the confidence of Flagler County residents. And need to answer for it? Why let them remain in office and continue to undermine the well fare of our students.
Let this be another hard lesson. We can and need to do better at the polls.
NO THEY ARE NOT LISTENING!! They have not listened yet.
This is just the toxic Ultra MAGA contaminating our schools and the students education. Totalitarianism displayed with pride? Is Furry pulling up a Tennessee failed stunt against two reps elected by the constituents. No wonder I saw during the election campaign a Furry sign displayed in a front lawn of Farragut Drive along a huge flag insulting our POTUS and the DEMS in capital letters. What can be expect from this type of individual….just Fascism.
At least this time Hunt voted appropriately and saved the so needed Ms. Massaro board member permanence. My appreciation to Colleen Conklin with soo many years in the board sure she knows their work versus the new two dictatorial novices, at times three. A real shame that even our beautiful and welcoming Florida has to be exposed and endure these political shenanigans even in our school system.
They are not content with the unjustified firing of Superintendent Mildstead but keep on hacking any of her supporters…changing the school top administrator affects the students in a negative way. Like changing your partner in the middle of the dance…Glad I didn’t vote for any of the two as I saw the writing on the wall.
Jane Kranz says
Ms Massaro is a true gem. We need more like her!
Just look at the faces in the picture related to this article. That tells you all you need to know about them.
We need more qualified and diverse candidates who can challenge the plethora of hypocritical MAGA bullies we have come to expect all too often to be in the running for these sensitive positions.
Hey, for all these negative comments, I agree, but I would like to hear from someone who voted for these 3 blokes. Where are you ?
Do you agree with the 3 idiots who you voted for ?
Celia Pugliese says
Great reporting as usual FlaglerLive and the pic you took, the perfect El Duce pose by Furry! Pathetic in school grounds!.
Once again the Flagler County Board of Ed is hitting the news and more negative issues continue to come up and now even with new Board Members. The whole Board needs to go, they have become a total embarrassment to the Flagler County. It is a Mega Board of a bunch of misfits.
Celia Pugliese says
Bonnie and Clyde robbing banks, Sonny and Cher in our music shows delighting us and unfortunately Furry and Chong damaging Flagler Schools.