Volusia County Schools: Perception and Reality

“Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do.”

 –Potter Stewart, Supreme Court Justice, 1958-1981

It is no secret that some very influential forces are at play in the gilded chamber of the Volusia County School Board.

During a recent discussion of whether to extend the contract of Superintendent Dr. Scott Fritz, We, The Little People who pay the bills and suffer in silence were treated to a ringside view of what happens when true power moves in Volusia County. 

It began when two sitting members of the School Board – Carl Persis and Linda Cuthbert – pushed for a premature off-the-agenda vote to extend the Superintendent’s contract without any substantive analysis of his performance.

In backing Cuthbert’s play in seeking a vote, Mr. Persis said:

“I feel sorry for Dr. Fritz right now. He probably thought something was going to happen. It’s stressful,” Persis said. “I’d rather take the heat than go through this all over again, put him through this again, put everyone who came out tonight through this again.”

I found that strange. . . 

As a member of the coveted $200K Club – that rare atmosphere where those making more than $200,000 a year in public funds understand and accept the professional volatility and uncertainty that comes with it – Dr. Fritz either knew, or should have known, that his performance would be open for discussion.

Interestingly, the move to keep Fritz at the helm was supported by some very heavy-hitters who spoke to board members from the podium – quickly followed by glowing letters from the heads of area colleges, universities, and the Daytona Beach Regional Chamber of Commerce – supported by other internal and external lobbying efforts.    

Given the abject dysfunction and lack of any substantive communications strategy that has hamstrung the Fritz administration – a foundering ship that never found its compass during the pandemic when students, teachers, parents, and staff needed strong leadership the most – many have questioned the full-court-press to extend the Superintendent’s contract some eight-months ahead of its expiration in November. 

The resultant confusion has caused many to speculate on the why of things.

Some wonder if keeping Dr. Fritz at the helm is to ensure funding for what they suspect may be a technology-based high school – possibly affiliated with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University – something that might explain why the incredibly influential Forough Hosseini – the wife of Mortenza “Mori” Hosseini, who serves as Chairman of the ERAU Board of Trustees (and Chair of the University of Florida Board of Trustees) – has been such a vocal supporter of Dr. Fritz, recently calling him a “visionary.”

Other watchers contacted me with rumors that Ormond Beach City Commissioner Susan Persis – the wife of Volusia County School Board member Carl Persis – was granted a lucrative contract with Volusia County District Schools to provide “coaching” services to several area principals.

One concerned citizen suggested that in an environment where the district is facing massive budgetary shortfalls, difficulty securing pay increases, and hemorrhaging teachers, the quiet agreement with the wife of a sitting board member – who represents one of the five fingers on the hand which controls Dr. Fritz’ fate – represents Volusia County cronyism at its finest. 

That raised my eyebrows. 

So, I did some checking to satisfy my own morbid curiosity. . . 

On March 16, 2020, Susan Summers Persis formed a Florida Limited Liability Corporation known as Summers Educational Coaching, LLC.  According to SunBiz, the $160.00 filing fee was paid using a personal check from a Bank of America account listing Susan S. Persis and Carl G. Persis on its face.

On September 1, 2021, Susan Persis signed a Contracted Services Agreement with the School District of Volusia County (CS 22-031LS) – the binding contract was approved by Deputy Superintendent Carmen J. Balgobin on September 7, 2021, and signed by Superintendent Ronald Fritz on September 8, 2021 – with a retroactive effective date of August 16, 2021, terminating on June 30, 2022. 

Among the scope of services, the agreement requires that Ms. Persis provide “…coaching and mentoring services to School Principals and Assistant Principals upon request by the Superintendent and/or the Deputy Superintendent…”  The location of services is listed as Pathways Elementary, Sugar Mill Elementary, Horizon Elementary, and Holly Hill School. 

The goals of the contract include coaching school principals to “…prioritize and accomplish sustainable target initiatives,” “guiding Principals to prioritize tasks,” “assisting Principals to become situational and instructional leaders,” “provide advice to Principals on how to effectively retain staff,” and some bureaucratic horseshit described as, “Provide Principals with comprehensive perspectives in a dynamic environment, while confronting new challenges daily.”

Whatever.

Under the terms, as a district contractor, Summers Educational Coaching is compensated at a rate of $82.00 per hour – not to exceed $23, 616.00 over the term of the agreement with services provided no longer than six-hours per day. 

The contract specifies Dr. Carmen Balgobin as the administrator designated by Superintendent Fritz to coordinate “…all matters pertaining to this agreement and to authorize services, accept and approve all reports, drafts, products, or invoices for all services…”

The contract terms are within Dr. Fritz’ spending authorization – which means the agreement did not need to come before the School Board for public approval. 

Pursuant to a formal public records request to Volusia County Schools, last week I learned that the following invoices have been paid to Summers Educational Coaching, LLC:

June 30, 2021              $1,025  (Before the effective date of the agreement)

September 18, 2021   $   902

September 28, 2021   $   738

October 1, 2021          $   492

October 31, 2021        $   820

November 15, 2021    $   615

November 30, 2021    $   738

December 15, 2021    $   738

January 15, 2022         $   902

January 31, 2022         $1,066

March 9, 2022             $   615

In addition, I found it interesting that Susan Persis executed an Authentication of Proposal and Statement of Non-Collusion and Non-Conflict of Interest dated April 28, 2020 – which was apparently made part of the Contracted Services Agreement signed in September 2021. 

Among other declarations, the agreement certifies that Ms. Persis, as a vendor, “…is legally entitled to enter into the contract with the School District of Volusia County and is not in violation of any prohibited conflict of interest, including those prohibited or any procurement regulation of the School District of Volusia County.”

Section five of that declaration states, “That the Vendor has fully disclosed with their response the name(s) of any officer, director, or agent who is or was an employee of the School Board of Volusia County, Florida.”  However, that disclosure was not made part of the public records I received.

For the record, Volusia County District Schools did not provide any ‘work product’ of Summers Educational Coaching relative to my public records request – that does not mean none exists – but I did not receive any.

Look, I am not casting aspersions on Ms. Persis’ contract with Volusia County Schools – if she certifies that no conflict of interest or prohibited business relationship exists under the terms of Florida’s ethics laws or the procurement of regulations of Volusia County Schools – then I accept that. 

As I understand it, by statute, School Districts are specifically exempt from Florida’s nepotism law – as are the Board of Governor’s of the State University System – and Ms. Persis has appropriately listed her company on required financial disclosure forms filed with the Supervisor of Elections.

Besides, I’m not an investigative journalist – I am just regurgitating information that is available to anyone who asks for it – and I damn sure am not the conscience of Volusia County District Schools.

But like Justice Stewart so eloquently said, “…knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do,” in my view, is the essence of personal and professional ethics. 

In my experience, avoiding even the appearance of impropriety is omnipotent in public office – because any conduct perceived to impair the ability of an elected or appointed official to fulfill their important responsibilities with fairness, impartiality, objectivity, and integrity is detrimental to the public’s trust of the institution. 

That is when – right or wrong – perceptions become reality for taxpayers who are routinely treated like mushrooms: Kept in the dark and fed bullshit. . .

This is especially true as controversy arises, such as when the School Board splits on whether to renew the Superintendent’s employment contract – especially when the wife of a board member has a lucrative contract with the same district overseen by the member – signed and authorized by that same Superintendent.  

That is when suspicion increases as We, The Little People seek answers – especially when what we see with our own eyes does not comport with what we are being told by some very influential people – and confidence in the important processes of governance continues to erode. 

UPDATE:

According to a report by education reporter Nikki Ross in The Daytona Beach News-Journal this morning:

Volusia County Schools Superintendent Scott Fritz has decided not to extend his contract, which he announced to staff in an email Monday morning. 

“After much reflection, I have decided not to extend my contract,” Fritz said. “Serving VCS has been the greatest experience in my 30 years of public education. I would like to thank each of you for your dedication to our students and our school system.”

Fritz did not give a reason for his decision in the email. He did not immediately return calls for comment Monday.” 

9 thoughts on “Volusia County Schools: Perception and Reality

  1. And this person is a triple dipper. Good find Barker. It may be allowed by law and custom, but is it the right thing to do? By the by, I enjoy your blog, but can you please send out a code of bloggers for commenters, something your readers and commenters can use to guide their comments? I do not wish anyone to be accused of inpugning character or harassment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Marc Toscano has homes on the loop .You wa t ce sorship get off here and go to Twitter and zfacebook where peopleike you love to censor peopleike me.Elon Musk has lotts more .oney than You who wants to stop censorsh like censoring almost 2 years ago the NY POST .SHUT THEM DOWN BECAUSE YHEY REPORTED HUNTER BIDENS LAPTOP WHERE MOST OF THE MEDIA CALLED IT BULLSHIT FROM RUSSIA BUT THE NY TIMES AND WASHINGTON POST LAST MONTH SAID IT WAS TRUE.DONT CENSOR THE MEDIA LIKE THE NY POST AND TRY TO SHUT THEM DOWN.Dont like my posts it is free speech thats what Musk knows.

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  2. A rather interesting article. Find the “principal coaching” rather dubious. Would be interested in what the principals have to say about their coaching. And, those skill sets should be requirements for the job.

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    1. Actually it is a great idea, if legitimately provided. Helps reduce information silos and share best practices. No such thing as a leader or principal who can’t benefit from better skills and training, regardless of talent, experience, skills and qualifications.

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  3. If the services were not put out to bid via an RFP, then not kosher. Nothing wrong with a spouse of a member (or anyone else) providing services as long as their selection was above board in a competitive environment, regardless of the governmental agency above. Florida’s laws and rules permitting otherwise ought to be changed.

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  4. DeSantis signed a bill 3 days ago for term limits on school boards.It would be interesting if the state and feds take our tax money that go to sludge schools with one and 2 ratings like Mainland High School and fund private schools or charter schools .Carl Persis per my conversation with him says they will not build a high school in Ormond Beach.Where are all the new kids moving here going to go.How long does it take from Halifax Plantation to a Daytona High School?

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  5. As Arte Johnson used to say “very interesting, but stupid!” I agree and I think she should have stayed away from this while on CC, not to mention being married to Carl. Now we have Lori Tolland running for CC who’s a slam dunk, what with being on the planning board so long and letting the developers get what they want-nepotism at its finest right here in Ormond Beach! 😑

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  6. Thank you so much for your hard work, and your cut-through-the-bullshit writing. As a product of VCS and one of its educators who left due to the hiring of Fritz, and as one who has been blacklisted because of speaking out, your good work gives me hope that, someday, I can return to my beloved VCS. By the way, I have applied for over 100 positions this year. I have a terminal degree, dual-certification, and according to Rachel Hazel, a “perfect” record with HR. I’ve been interviewed twice, and not hired, proving that Fritz’s line of not having teachers available is a full-out lie. Perhaps you and I should talk. I have the records. Teachers are available, just not the ones he wanted. It will be interesting to see if I’m put to work when he leaves. If I actually want to. Maybe I just applied to all those jobs to prove something. Again, thank you. I lost my best friend, Linda Cuthbert, over my stance on Fritz. Five teachers in my family left VCS. Five. Fritz and Balgobin hitting the road repairs a little of the heartbreak. We’ll have to do some rescue breathing and compressions to see if VCS can be brought back to life. As a community.

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  7. I think its amazing that ethics and honesty don’t matter to Cuthbert and Persis anymore. They do to the rest of us! Thank you Haynes and Burnette for insisting on a review of performance before any extension would be granted. I think that is why Fritz quit because his dirty laundry would finally be out in the public during a review. I wish him luck as I am sure he had laid the groundwork to move back to Orlando/Kissimmee already where his family lives. Thank heavens Cuthbert won’t represent us officially here in New Smyrna anymore after this election. She doesn’t really effectively represent us now! But her big donors are happy with her, and that’s what matters, right???

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