What: School Board workshop on whether to extend the employment contract of Volusia County School Superintendent Dr. Scott Fritz
When: 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 22
Where: Volusia County Schools administration center at 200 N. Clara Ave., DeLand, or streamed live online at www.youtube.com/c/VolusiaCountySchoolBoard
A Feb. 22 meeting of the Volusia County School Board took an unexpected turn — unexpected by some, at least — when a discussion turned to a question of whether to extend Superintendent Dr. Scott Fritz’s employment contract.
Fritz was hired in December 2019; his three-year contract, currently at the rate of $205,000 annually, ends in December 2022.
The School Board agenda called for a discussion of Fritz’s contract, but it wasn’t listed as an action item.
As soon as the discussion opened, Board Member Linda Cuthbert moved to renew Fritz’s contract for another three years. The motion was seconded by Board Member Carl Persis. That set the stage for a two-hour flurry of conversation — including a dozen public speakers — about the performance of the superintendent, and his future.
Fritz sat silently as board members and members of the public spoke passionately about either his stellar leadership or, alternatively, his egotistical tyranny, and argued over whether it was appropriate to make a motion at all.
Board Chair Ruben Colón appeared to be taken aback by the whirlwind.
“When I requested from the board to get direction, the idea was to have a discussion,” Colón said.
Cuthbert, who has seen two former Volusia County school superintendents ousted without notice during her tenure, said she made a motion immediately to avoid being taken unawares.
“I put it in the form of a motion, because I refuse to be blindsided, like I was twice before,” Cuthbert said. “I’m not about to let another superintendent who works so hard for this district be raked over the coals.”
The School Board’s attorney said the board could consider the motion, despite not having advertised action on the contract.
Cuthbert was adamant that extending Fritz’s contract was in the best interest of the county.
“One thing we need now more than anything is stability … to have another changeover or to not give this man who’s worked so hard the reassurance that he has a job next Dec. 3 is ludicrous,” Cuthbert said.
She said not extending his contract may make it difficult to attract a replacement.
“I don’t know anyone in his or her right mind who would come here when in the last, what? Eight years? We’ve had three superintendents,” Cuthbert said.
The public speakers in favor of Fritz included Daisy Grimes, head of the Volusia County African American Leadership Council.
“What we do know is that we are at the table, and we are enjoying that experience,” Grimes said. “We feel that it will be unfair to make a decision about his continuing contract without doing a proper evaluation.”
Fritz is due for an evaluation in July, after the 2021-22 school year concludes. That timeline, however, would not give the School Board enough time to find a new superintendent, if his contract is not renewed, Cuthbert said.
And, moving the evaluation to earlier than July would not give the School Board the chance to consider important data measures, like graduation rates and test scores.
Several people pointed out that Fritz’s tenure has been a particularly unusual one — it was only three months after he took over that COVID-19 upended daily life, and schools went entirely virtual for the first time in history.
Fritz was also absent for nearly seven months (from July of 2020 to February 2021) as he underwent treatment for cancer.
And, the start of this school year was defined by a fight over mask mandates — a topic that embroiled school districts and municipalities across the state and nation.
For many parents, it was an Aug. 14, 2021, statement by Fritz — that it was “bad parenting” when adults don’t mask and don’t get vaccinated — that drew their deepest ire. Fritz ultimately apologized for the statement.
“We did hear of our superintendent’s true feelings toward the parents who choose not to mask or vaccinate their children, calling it bad parenting, and this broke trust with many parents,” one parent said. “For me, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
Other topics included the pervasive problem of teacher vacancies, and Fritz’s communication and leadership skills (which were described as “the best” and “visionary” as well as “disrespectful” and “a reign of terror”).
Colón and Board Member Anita Burnette indicated they would feel more comfortable taking action with the matter listed on the agenda as a “board action item,” rather than a “discussion.” This prompted Cuthbert to push them, and Board Member Jamie Haynes, to say outright their opinion of Fritz.
“I want some kind of confidence, some kind of assurance from this board that we plan, at least, to extend his contract. So he knows he’s got a job. And he doesn’t need to start looking,” Cuthbert said. “I would like to know, from each and every one of you: Are we in favor of extending his contract?”
Deferring the matter wasn’t fair to Fritz, Board Member Persis said.
“Today, we talked about putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. How would you feel, sitting there and having to go through all this? And only to leave the meeting knowing I got to go through all this again. You know, it doesn’t seem right,” Persis said.
When pushed, Colón and Burnette said they were unsure of their decision. Jamie Haynes, however, who had been vehemently opposed to mask mandates, was more forthright.
“If you want to know where I stand tonight, I have to look at where are we going? Where have we been? What is working and what is not? And I’m not prepared to extend his contract,” Haynes said.
Facing lack of support, Cuthbert ultimately withdrew her motion.
The School Board has set a workshop at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 22, for a vote on the matter.