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The Volusia County School Board met Dec. 8 to discuss a number of items. Here are some of the highlights.

Former School Board Chair Ida Wright to serve as diversity and equity specialist

The school district announced Dec. 5 that former Volusia County School Board Chair Ida Wright will return to Volusia County Schools to serve temporarily as a diversity and equity specialist in the human resources department.

The move proved to be controversial; multiple members of the public mentioned Wright’s hiring during the Dec. 8 School Board meeting.

One commenter said she was “very surprised” that a new position was created for Wright, who lost the race for her seat in the November general election to now-School Board Member Anita Burnette.

Another commenter said, “When the superintendent hires an un-re-elected board member after receiving an off-the-agenda pay raise, the intentions may be sound, but the ethics are a different matter.”

Wright will be paid $35 per hour, and will work about 20 hours per week, for an undefined temporary period, according to Volusia County Schools spokeswoman Cynthia Lane.

Several School Board members recognized the hiring process could have been more transparent.

“I know diversity and equity is a big topic for us, and I agree we need to look at that,” Burnette said. “I just think the way we went about that probably could have been a bit more transparent.”

Board Member Ruben Colón said he believes the position is much-needed, but that, going forward, the school district needs to be more transparent, and ensure that every job with the school district is posted.

Despite the controversy, Chief Human Resources Officer Mark West said Wright will be a great asset to aid the district’s ongoing efforts to increase diversity among the staff.

“As you know, this issue has been a passion of Ms. Wright’s for the entire tenure she has served on the board. With her knowledge of the district … and working with the community, she will be a powerful resource as we strive for equity in our district,” he said. “In her part-time role, she will be tasked with advising our recruiting department in attracting underrepresented candidates, and working with our leadership development department in training our administrators in diversity.”

Superintendent Scott Fritz to return

Dr. Scott Fritz will return as Volusia County Schools superintendent on Feb. 1, he told School Board members.

Fritz called in to the Dec. 8 meeting during the public-participation period to thank the School Board and Interim Superintendent Carmen Balgobin for their hard work in his absence.

“I wanted to give a message of gratitude to our employees, and I wanted to say thank you,” he said.

Fritz left his post in July to undergo cancer treatment. While he had anticipated only a one-month absence, his treatment and recovery have taken longer.

Interim Superintendent Balgobin has received criticism as of late after she received additional compensation backdated to her July start date as acting superintendent, despite an ongoing struggle to fund raises for teachers, but Fritz said he was happy with the work she is doing.

“She has earned the title of superintendent, and I am very proud of her,” he said.

Balgobin’s salary is $145,000, while Fritz’s salary is $205,000. As interim superintendent, Balgobin receives an extra $4,000 a month, but said she will not take the extra pay until the county’s teachers receive raises.

Linda Cuthbert battling cancer

After wrapping up the phone call with Superintendent Fritz, School Board Chair Linda Cuthbert told the other board members that she, too, is battling cancer.

Cuthbert said she will go for her second treatment soon, and for her third on New Year’s Eve.

“If I happen to not answer an email, I apologize,” she said. “It’s a fight, it’s a battle, and I’m glad Dr. Fritz has come through so much of his already.”

Cuthbert said she has dealt with cancer before, and is looking forward to life after her recovery.

Volusia Live updates

While originally set to shut down Jan. 22, a Department of Education emergency order has allowed the Volusia Live program to continue into 2021.

To continue the online learning program, the school district must submit a plan to the Department of Education by Dec. 15 laying out how it will combat failing grades and truancy.

Guardians with students enrolled in Volusia Live will receive a survey in mid-January asking whether they intend to keep their students enrolled in Volusia Live for the remainder of the school year.

As of Dec. 4, 8,038 students were enrolled in Volusia Live, which connects students to the classroom in real time.

Students enrolled in Volusia Online Learning, the district’s self-paced online learning option, were recently polled, and only 15 percent of the 6,138 — as of Dec. 4 — students are expected to return to brick-and-mortar school.

School Board Member Jamie Haynes expressed concern about students shifting platforms this late in the school year.

While Volusia Live allows students to follow lessons in real-time, the self-paced nature of Volusia Online Learning, Haynes said, can make it hard on teachers when students return and are behind other students in the curriculum.

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