Lubby Navarro thought that Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho ought to stay on board beyond 2020, when his current contract expires.
The District 7 school board member told him as much when Miami-Dade earned the historic designation of an A-rated school district back in June. So last week, Navarro wrote up an item that would authorize negotiations to extend Carvalho’s contract until 2023, the fifth contract modification since he became superintendent, and published it on the Sept. 5 board meeting agenda.
But when the School Board convened Wednesday for committee meetings, where board items are discussed among members for the first time in public, Navarro’s item sparked a three-hour deliberation that featured split opinions, impassioned speeches and board members talking over one another.
Board members didn’t take much issue with the spirit of the item — it wasn’t personal, they told Carvalho — but how Navarro brought the item and the timing. Board member Steve Gallon said Navarro’s approach, “becomes the wild wild west of emotions.”
Before Navarro introduced her item, chairwoman Perla Tabares Hantman said it was “disrespectful” that Navarro brought the item without discussion. Hantman said she should’ve been the one to introduce the item, as she offered to hire Carvalho back in 2008 and proposed extending his contract in 2013.
“Certainly we all have the right and the ability to bring items,” Hantman said. But, “This cannot be taken lightly. To me this is of utmost importance.”
Navarro found an ally in board member Marta Perez, who offered to co-sponsor the item.
“I don’t see anything wrong with Ms. Navarro bringing it,” she said, referring to Hantman’s comments.
But discussion took a turn when Gallon called the item a “political ambush,” similar to Carvalho’s will-he-or-won’t-he showdown when he was offered the top job at New York City public school system. Gallon said that, as one of the newer board members, Carvalho hasn’t had an evaluation yet and contract negotiations with employee unions were up for ratification.
Gallon offered to amend the item to extend Carvalho’s contract after union contracts wrapped up.
Board member Mari Tere Rojas seconded Gallon’s point that it wasn’t the right time because employee contracts were still open.
“I could go on and on about concerns,” she said.
The two said the item should’ve been introduced during a workshop or in new business, when board members can freely talk about new ideas, instead of discussing an item already made public.
Navarro said extending Carvalho’s contract meant stability for the district as voters head back to the polls in November to decide on a four-year property tax increase to raise funding for teacher pay. Gallon rejected that notion, pointing to the Broward County school district, where its own referendum passed with 64 percent of the vote Tuesday night despite talk of discontent about Superintendent Robert Runcie.
Board member Martin Karp took issue with the timing as well, but voiced his support. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall wondered aloud if the item could be postponed.
Feldman was concerned with the “optics” of the item — how could the board support extending Carvalho’s contract while the referendum could fail and teachers are left without a higher salary?
The item, however, does not include a pay raise for Carvalho, who has made a salary of $352,000 since last September. Navarro says that was intentional.
“My part in bringing the items was just an extension of time, and nothing beyond that,” Navarro told the Herald on Monday.
But Carvalho wanted to address the issue of pay and the mention of his New York debacle and reaffirm that he would reject any salary increase.
“We’ve done great work together. I felt honored when Ms. Navarro brought the item,” he said. “I did not know about it until late Thursday afternoon. I would not entertain or accept any salary increase. I am a bit shocked considering what’s happened today and what lies before us that anyone would think that.”
He added, “I never thought that you would see that my staying longer would be a hindrance.”
After all, the members of the fiscal accountability and government relations committee, Navarro, Perez, Karp, Hantman, Bendross-Mindingall and Feldman, unanimously voted to approve the item as is. Susie Castillo, also on the committee, was absent.
In her office, Navarro said she would make revisions before next week’s board meeting but didn’t know which ones to change yet. Would she have presented her item differently after all the push-back from the board?
“No,” she said after the meeting in her office. “At the end of the day, I listened.”