As Broward Schools Superintendent Vickie Cartwright considers a possible vote to fire her on Tuesday, the future of the school district’s top attorney also remains in limbo.
Acting General Counsel Marylin Batista negotiated with school board president Torey Alston to retain the position permanently. But the two are at an impasse over pay, and if the matter is not resolved, Batista could lose her seat on the dais as the school board’s legal counsel. She would be allowed to return to her old position as assistant general counsel with a $60,000 pay cut, according to her contract.
Batista, who has been a district attorney since 1996, is now paid $230,000 as acting general counsel. Alston offered to keep her on the same salary with the option of earning up to $15,000 more in 90 days pending a good review. Batista wants at least $245,000 to start.
“What would be in the best interests of taxpayers?” Having someone who maybe can’t guide you through those shark-infested waters we’ve been dealing with in Broward County for the past two years? Batista’s attorney, Frank Areces, told Alston during negotiations Thursday. “Or someone who can save you from litigation, can save you from having to pay more to represent board members.”
Although the dispute is over a relatively small sum of money, perhaps the biggest issue is whether a school board now controlled by Gov. Ron DeSantis appointees actually wants to keep its top administrators in their jobs.
The school district has faced a period of upheaval and uncertainty since Aug. 26, when DeSantis suspended and replaced four school board members due to a scathing grand jury report that identified mismanagement and possible corruption.
The same grand jury in April 2021 indicted former Superintendent Robert Runcie and former General Counsel Barbara Myrick with felony charges.
The four new board members, along with former DeSantis nominee Daniel Foganholi, refer to themselves as the “reform board” and have promised bold moves during their brief tenure, which is ending for all but Alston Little. soon after the election of new board members on November 8.
A pivotal meeting is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, where Alston has scheduled “open discussion and action” regarding the three employees who report directly to the board: Cartwright, Batista and chief auditor Joris Jabouin.
Cartwright, who was not with the district during the period considered by the grand jury, appears to be most at risk of losing her job.
She has come under heavy criticism in recent weeks from Alston and Foganholi, both DeSantis appointees. An agenda item prepared by Alston lists 15 criticisms related to his leadership.
If Alston asks the board on Tuesday to fire her, Foganholi told the South Florida Sun Sentinel he would support that.
It is unclear if Jabouin’s job is in jeopardy. The school board has yet to publicly discuss his performance.
“I believe it’s something that needs to be discussed,” Foganholi said. “We are responsible for three people and we have the power to monitor their condition.”
Cartwright, Batista and Jabouin could not be reached on Monday.
Batista was named acting general counsel in May 2021 to replace Myrick. As a condition of her assuming the role, the school board did not allow Batista to apply for the permanent job. Her salary increased from $170,000 as assistant general counsel to $230,000 as acting general counsel.
A search for general counsel resulted in two finalists, but neither accepted the position. So the school board asked then-president Laurie Rich Levinson to negotiate a contract with Batista to stay on permanently. But Levinson was suspended before that happened.
On Oct. 4, Foganholi expressed outrage when Cartwright and Batista approved severance packages worth $237,000 for three district administrators without notifying the school board.
He asked the board at the meeting to consider rescinding the offer to Batista, but most of the other board members, including three DeSantis appointees, disagreed with him and ordered Alston to negotiate with Batista.
But his lawyer Areces accused Alston of engaging in “bad faith” negotiations with a starting offer of $200,000.
Last minute alerts
As it happens
Get story development updates as they happen with our free email alerts.
“She is not happy with the way President Alston is carrying out the negotiations,” Areces told the Sun Sentinel. “He started at $30,000 below what she’s making now, which is insulting.”
Alston noted that Batista’s salary was $10,000 more than Myrick’s when she left as general counsel. Myrick had fewer years of experience as a lawyer.
“There’s no way I can present anything more to this board, knowing the statements they’ve all made publicly, the budget conversations we’ve had, and all the challenges we face,” Alston said during negotiations on Thursday.
It will therefore be up to the school board to decide whether to ask Alston to continue to negotiate. Board members Nora Rupert and Sarah Leonardi said they would like to strike a deal with Batista.
“She is respected across the state. The district was under tremendous pressure, and I think she tried her best, and I see no reason to stop,” Rupert said. “She is always ready to learn and improve policies and processes. »
Ryan Reiter, one of the Desantis appointees, said Batista “has been in the district for a very long time and I think she’s an asset. In terms of a leadership and advisory role on the board , I should take a look at the documentation to find out why she might not be suitable for the position of General Counsel.
Foganholi said the separation agreement controversy “didn’t sit well with me. I’d love to have the conversation to see if there’s any new talent we can bring in.