Unscheduled (and illegal) huddles aside, the Flagler County School Board is holding four separate meetings Tuesday, the last one at 5:15 p.m., where one of the agenda items is a potential vote on ending the search for a new superintendent and permanently appointing LaShakia Moore to the position.
The timing is propitious for Moore, the interim superintendent since July 1 who, who in the space of less than three weeks, showed her skills and mien in dealing with the opening of school, with one of the district’s most embarrassing scandals in recent memory, and with a hurricane.
Moore went from joyful enthusiasm in the new school year’s opening days to a hard-nosed, immersive response to the segregated-assembly scandal at Bunnell Elementary, to the calm, deliberate preparation of the district–and a public shelter at Rymfire Elementary–for what turned out to be the minimal impacts of Hurricane Idalia.
The board could not have asked for a more merciless job tryout in such a concentrated time span. From all appearances and early reviews, Moore did not merely meet expectations. “So far I think Ms. Moore has done an outstanding job under circumstances that are far beyond any” that could have been imagined in that span, School Board Chair Cheryl Massaro said Friday, as she enumerated the series of recent events. “She’s literally had on the job interviews by us watching and working with her.”
Moore was appointed interim, following the departure of Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt, to give the board half a year to search for and appoint a new superintendent. Last month, soon after the new school year began, Massaro suggested suspending the search and urged the board to consider appointing Moore the permanent superintendent. The board agreed to the suspension and–with little publicity and no plans to live-stream the meeting–scheduled what it dubbed a “retreat” to conduct a three-hour job interview with Moore. (See: “School Board Will Hold 3-Hour Interview of LaShakia Moore for Superintendent, But Hopes You Won’t Attend.”)
That was to take place the morning of Aug. 24. On Aug. 21, FlaglerLive reported on the segregated assembly that took place at Bunnell Elementary the previous Friday, an assembly where Black students were called a “problem’ by staffers and urged to raise their test scores with a combination of threats to their future welfare and bribes. Fury ensued, including national attention. The “retreat” was postponed. The scandal was quickly followed by preparations for the storm.
The “retreat” has now been re-scheduled for Tuesday morning, Sept. 5, at 10:30 a.m. It has been more appropriately renamed a special workshop. It has been moved from what would have been the superintendent’s smaller conference room to the larger meeting room on the third floor of the Government Services Building, where the board holds its regular workshops. It will be streamed live. Unlike the earlier “retreat,” it is publicly noticed on the district’s “Board Docs,” with an agenda.
But that agenda will be vastly different and scaled back from the earlier version (which you can see here). For one, the meeting is scheduled for two hours instead of three. The long agenda filled with job-interview-like questions has been set aside, because in the meantime, all five board members have met with Moore behind closed doors and have asked their questions. Never mind that they did so without public benefit: individual elected officials are allowed to hold such interviews behind closed doors if they so choose, though more public-minded boards tend to also include open sessions for the public’s benefit.
Whether Tuesday’s workshop will serve that purpose will be determined at the meeting. The agenda is more general, discussing “community engagement,” “communications,” finances and so on. “These were areas that had been touched upon at the prior retreat, but had not been gone into,” School Board Attorney Kristy Gavin, who set the agenda, said. “They still are significant in terms of where she’s at and identifying where she’s at in these matters,” she being Moore.
But the workshop is just as much intended for the edification of the three new board members. “There’s still a lot of things they don’t understand, that they’re learning,” Massaro said.
John Reichart, a consultant with the Florida School Board Association, will sit ion as somewhat of a facilitator, especially since Gavin may not have returned from an out-of-state trip by the start of the meeting. The board hired the association consultants to help steer the superintendent search.
At 1 p.m. Tuesday, the board will go into a (legally-sanctioned) closed-door session to discuss negotiating strategy in collective bargaining with the district’s teacher and employee unions. The board members and those assembled in the room may only talk about that strategy and facts directly related to bargaining. If they stray and discuss other matters, they would be breaking the law. (Gavin is responsible for ensuring that they do not, and minutes of the meeting are made public once the bargaining agreement is signed.)
At 3 p.m., they’ll meet in open session for a regularly scheduled workshop setting the agenda of their Sept. 19 meeting, and at 5:15 p.m., they’ll hold a time-certain meeting, required by law, to adopt next year’s budget. Since it is a business meeting, the administration took advantage of it to also include other items the board may vote on, among them: a potential vote on hiring Moore, and ending the search.
That part of the meeting has not been highlighted, again denying the public a more systematic way of weighing in on the choice of superintendent. But it would be the most consequential vote of the board this year, at least since its 3-2 vote to what ended up being the firing of Mittelstadt.
Nothing says the board will vote to hire Moore. But if, after Moore’s performance over the last few weeks, the board opts against her candidacy for now, it would make her candidacy later less likely, since the vote would be an unexpected and stinging rejection. It would also mean that the search would resume.
That’s what makes the vote–whichever way it goes–essential from an organizational perspective: if the board is to have a new superintendent in place by January, other than Moore, it has to restart the process, advertise the position and go from there. As it is, Gavin said, “we’re two weeks behind.” She made the sound of a clock: “tik-toc.”