A Toxic Culture

I like to joke that the Volusia County School Board put the “fun” in “dysfunction” – except it’s not funny anymore. . .

There was more high drama on Tuesday when things took a theatrical turn in the ongoing saga of beleaguered Superintendent Dr. Ronald “Scott” Fritz when he was unceremoniously fired on a 3-2 vote following an offstage altercation with Chairman Ruben Colon.

Good.  In the view of many, Fritz should have been shown the door months ago.  

Don’t worry, everyone involved landed on their feet – except those who rely on Volusia County District Schools for their education or livelihood – because that’s how this pernicious “system” is geared to work. . .     

In the aftermath of the vote, Dr. Fritz quickly skedaddled with a sack full of severance worth a whopping $186,843.42 pursuant to the terms of his lucrative contract which guaranteed him the proverbial golden parachute for termination “without cause.”

In the aftermath, many are wondering if that was the right call – and why the rush?

Look, in my view, the Volusia County School Board had ample reason(s) to send Fritz packing long before the announcement he would not be renewing his contract – not the least of which was the laundry list of pseudo accomplishments he sent to stakeholders – something many found self-indulgent given the well-publicized internal opposition and organizational dysfunction that belied the results of a recent external accreditation audit which praised the districts much-heralded “strategic plan.”

Except, last year we learned that the strategic plan (for which Dr. Fritz received a $10,000 spiff) was actually facilitated by an outside company who apparently received some $49,000 in public funds – an amount just under the Superintendent’s spending threshold – which meant the consulting fee did not have to come before the School Board for approval.

That wasn’t the only issue that came outside the public’s view during Dr. Fritz’ tenure.

For instance, during public participation prior to the vote, a speaker asked that Dr. Fritz consider reimbursing the district after he continued to receive an automobile allowance during his seven-month leave of absence at the same time his interim replacement, Dr. Carmen Balgobin, was also being paid a vehicle stipend.

Recently, many were concerned by Dr. Fritz’ controversial decision to enter a contracted services agreement with Ormond Beach City Commissioner Susan Persis, a retired district employee and wife of current School Board member (and Fritz cheerleader) Carl Persis, which pays her $82.00 an hour (not to exceed $23,616.00 over the life of the contract) to provide “coaching services” to principals at select schools – another dubious expense that did not come before the School Board for approval.   

In the view of many, it was this all-too-convenient arrangement that removed Mr. Persis’ moral authority to contribute to the discussion of Dr. Fritz’ fate.

But that didn’t stop him.   

Interestingly, Mr. Persis joined Linda Cuthbert in voting against terminating Dr. Fritz. . . 

Yeah.  That. . . 

Of course, between all the gnashing of teeth and political posturing, there was much gushing from the dais about the importance of “putting the children first” and prioritizing those professionals who teach and support children in the classroom – which seemed to drive the point home that it has never been “about the children” with this bunch of over-the-top buffoons and their attorney, Ted “Sleepy Potato” Doran – who guides the decisions of his wayward charges with admonishments like, “You’re gonna make me rich!”

Which would be funny if it weren’t true. . . 

In typical fashion, the School Board meeting had all the earmarks of another noxious shitshow – and the handwriting was on the wall following a spirited “workshop” earlier that afternoon – during which board member Linda Cuthbert publicly unraveled and cemented her standing as a hyper-dramatic soup sandwich who clearly lacks the emotional strength for elective service.  

Don’t take my word for it, watch the shenanigans for yourself here: https://tinyurl.com/2p8a6a5v  

When talk turned to “succession planning” (which looked nothing remotely like actual succession planning, a process that typically takes place before the Head Honcho departs) board member Jamie Haynes courageously made the much-anticipated motion to terminate Fritz, which was seconded by Anita Burnette, and followed by pious tut-tutting from the tag team of Cuthbert and Persis.

Then, during a clumsy recess before the vote to allow Mr. Doran to discuss potential victims – sorry, make that “interim superintendents” – with two board members, Dr. Fritz could be seen gesturing for Chairman Ruben Colon to follow him into an anteroom off the dais. 

When the meeting reconvened, an obviously frazzled Colon made the cryptic statement:

“During the break, Dr. Fritz made it clear he does not want to be here by his actions.  So, I’m going to support the motion tonight. It’s not what I came here to do. But I do not believe our employees deserve what I was just subject to a few minutes ago.”

Whoa. 

That should have signaled an “All Stop” from Mr. Doran so an investigation could be commissioned to determine exactly what happened outside the public view that influenced (or intimidated?) the Chair to support the Superintendent’s immediate termination. 

But he didn’t. 

In retrospect, it seemed infinitely more important to Mr. Doran that Dr. Fritz’ exorbitant severance package be set in stone without delay. 

But why?

Many of us looking on were shocked when Mr. Doran stepped out of his advisory role, seized the reigns from Chairman Colon, and clearly orchestrated a motion to approve the severance package in the immediate aftermath of a confrontation that left the Chair of his board clearly stunned.

From what little we know – Chairman Colon was apparently on the receiving end of one of Dr. Fritz’ infamous “temper tantrums” – angry outbursts that have had many staff members “walking on eggshells” as fear and intimidation permeated the Ivory Tower of Power in Deland.   

A toxic culture, indeed.  

Look, it has been a while since I was on the public dole – and I have no idea what Mr. Colon was “subjected to” behind Oz’s curtain – but if memory serves, I distinctly recall a prohibition on insubordinate and disrespectful behavior by senior appointed officials toward those We, The Little People elect to represent our interests in the municipality that employed me. . . 

Yep.  I am certain that if a senior executive saw fit to verbally abuse a sitting elected official where I worked, it would have resulted in a formal outside inquiry; and, if proven true, the conduct would have resulted in termination with cause – which would negate any claim to a massive severance package – in this case, worth over six times the median per capita income of Volusia County residents.

We deserve an explanation from Mr. Doran. But don’t hold your breath.

Unfortunately, the rules are different at Volusia County District Schools – depending upon who you are (or who you’re married to), that is. 

In the opinion of many residents, in his final act of defiance, Dr. Fritz violated the “Termination with Cause” provisions of his contract which expressly lists “gross insubordination” as a terminable offense resulting in forfeiture of severance.    

While many view insubordination as an intentional failure to carry out the lawful order of a superior, the term is also accepted to include insolence – acts, conduct, and language which demonstrate a lack of respect or contempt of lawful authority – like when the Superintendent of Schools sends the Chairman of the School Board into a panic with his boorish behavior. . .  

In Volusia County, the tail often wags the dog, and elected officials are admonished to view things from the “30,000-foot level” rather than get mired in the minutia of their fiduciary responsibilities to protect taxpayers from the burden of an undeserved $186,000 payout to a failed superintendent with a penchant for making his bosses cry. 

Whatever.

Before fleeing the dais, Dr. Fritz continued to toot his own horn:

“It will still remain one of the high points in the 30-plus years in public education.  Nobody wants change, but sometimes it’s necessary, and I will tell you that when I was hired here, I was asked for a change. And I think we’ve done that. I stand ready to help the next permanent superintendent of Volusia County Schools because we want what’s best for our kids.”

No thanks, Dr. Fritz.  You’ve done quite enough. . .

For the immediate future, Human Resources Director Rachel Hazel was tapped by unanimous vote to temporarily steer the ship – at least until Chairman Colon has an opportunity to beg former Deputy Superintendent Dr. Carmen Balgobin to uproot from her new post in Broward County and return to the muck and mire of the Fun Coast.    

You read that right. 

They are banking on “Dr. B” – who just jumped ship for greener pastures – to pull our collective fat out of the fire. . .   

It is called “Panic Mode” – a complete lack of any continuity of operations plan or identifiable chain-of-command in the face of a growing crisis. 

Adding to the chaos and confusion – Tuesday’s contentious meeting ended with no firm design for how (or even if) the School Board will search for a replacement, the level of stakeholder participation (if any), or a strategy for calming the tumult and rampant speculation going forward. 

With a budget now exceeding $1 Billion and the busiest time of the school year approaching – this one deserves your undivided attention.

I fear the fun is just beginning. . .  

13 thoughts on “A Toxic Culture

  1. Volusia Schools are a mess. Highly paid administrative staff offering marginal results.
    A school system rated very low in terms of current standards.
    And our children suffer through this madness.
    Why would Susan Persis accept a consulting position?

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    1. Marc right on Volusia schools are a mess and get rid of the Persis familiy in Volusia government.In these very hard times to smile may everyone who celebrates Passover and Easter have a wonderful holiday and enjoy it with family.Happy holidays Marc and Mark.

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  2. Good blog. Except to go back to the same well will continue the disaster. Get us a true leader not a reworked former principal. We need a ceo quality individual. They need to bring their team as well and get paid for performance What did we end up paying Fritz? Certainly the total was much much more than his reported salary. Come on let’s find the right leader and stay away from school leaders who lock themselves up in their office all day.

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  3. Its the Persis s of Volusia County that have to go.. they have been suckling on the teet of Taxpayers.. City n County for far too long!
    As soon as they loose one position.. they jump to another.. and the nursing or fleecing continues!

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  4. Watch the meeting again just before break time. Find the part where Ruben Colon states something about he knows Dr B did not willingly leave and if she could be there she would, don’t watch Ruben when he says it, watch Dr. Fritz! It all changes from there leading up to backroomgate ….not so sure she was one of his “girls” after all.

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  5. THEY hired him. Obviously a bad hire. THEY failed to complete the required evaluation. THEY hired the attorney. THEY (Haynes nominated ) all voted for Colon as chair. THEY forgot about who sets policy and transparency. THEY probably need a lesson on operations and the Sunshine Law. The Fritz fiasco is just the latest debacle of dysfunctional ineffective board. We can replace the majority of THEM this August. THEY had their try, lets give some new people not related to system a chance. Vote THEM out.

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  6. Thank God for Colon, Burnette and Haynes…what the hell was the spineless Cuthbert thinking? Knowing what everyone saw and heard, and she still didn’t have the courage to do what was right? New Smyrna needs better….as for Persis, his wife’s contract bought his loyalty! Get these three board members who believe in ethics and decency some help! And that attorney Doran should have immediately recommended they had the ability to terminate for cause but he and his gravy train law firm who got so much outside work from Fritz and the district just couldn’t do that. His firm gets more work and pay than he gets with his whopping pay! He thinks he is the sixth board member! He has to be next! He should be disbarred again! Bring sanity back to New Smyrna schools! Thank you Mrs. Burnette for standing up against the fray and showing what class and ethics look like!

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  7. With so many problems in this district why hasn’t been investigating by the state for corruption, or wrong management of school districts etc etc . And people still voting for this clowns while teachers and school in need of real help .

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  8. The attorney needs to be fired first. Then we have elections and then we let the new board hire the next individual. Persis should be removed for his wife’s involvement. The good ole boy network did not prevail in keeping this terrible leader. Very proud of the few that new Fritz needed to go and had the courage to act on it. That is why they were elected.

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