If Miami-Dade schools chief runs for Congress, who will replace him?

Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.
Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. Miami

Just days after Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho’s name surfaced as a potential candidate for Congress, speculation has already started over who might replace him as schools chief.

Several School Board members said they have received calls asking what would happen if Carvalho — who told the Miami Herald on Friday that he is being courted to run for retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s seat — resigns to run for office.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of folks in all of the communities and yes, they are concerned,” said board Chair Larry Feldman. “He’s been working for us for eight years in this position and has taken us from financial disasters, academic issues, credibility issues,” to a school district that serves as a model for the rest of the country, Feldman said.

It’s unclear how seriously the superintendent is considering pursuing a political run. On Friday, Carvahlo walked the fence in an interview with the Miami Herald. He said he had a “moral responsibility at least to entertain” requests from the people who are hoping he’ll get into the race but added that his commitment to the school district “is as strong and unwavering as ever.”

But Carvalho has since privately assured School Board members, including Feldman, that he plans to remain head of Miami-Dade Schools, where his contract runs until 2020.

School Board member Lubby Navarro, who has gotten calls from residents in her district and elected officials concerned about Carvalho’s possible departure, said Carvalho told her on Saturday that there was “zero chance” he would run.

If the superintendent does leave, Navarro said there are two qualified candidates who come to mind as possible replacements: Iraida Mendez-Cartaya, an associate superintendent at the Miami-Dade school district who lobbies in Tallahassee on the district’s behalf, and Pablo Ortiz, a former school district administrator who currently serves as a vice president at Florida International University.

Both responded that they were happy where they were.

“Although I’m honored that there are board members that have offered my name as a possible replacement for the superintendent, at this time I’m not interested,” Ortiz said. “I’m very happy with the opportunities I have right now at FIU.”

Mendez-Cartaya also said she wants to stay in her current position. “I’m very happy in my current role in the district,” she said. “It gives me the opportunity to work with the community and the State Legislature and further the educational opportunities for our children.”

School Board member Steve Gallon also mentioned Ortiz as a possible candidate, along with three former Miami-Dade administrators who now oversee other school districts: Nikolai Vitti, the superintendent of Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville; Kriner Cash, the head of the Buffalo, New York, school district; and Kamela Patton, Superintendent of Collier County Public Schools in the Naples area.

It’s unclear what, if any, interest they would have in the job.

“There are a number of tremendous candidates who have come through the Miami-Dade schools who have demonstrated a great capacity for leadership and could transition into the role of superintendent and continue the great work that Mr. Carvalho has implemented,” Gallon said.

Carvalho’s name has surfaced as a possible candidate for a number of political positions during his time as superintendent, including Florida governor and county mayor. There was also speculation during the run-up to the 2016 presidential election that Carvalho would be a likely candidate for a job in the Education Department if Hillary Clinton won.

If Carvalho does resign, the School Board could decide to conduct a national search for a new superintendent, or hire from within the school district. Either way, board members said, any new schools leader would have big shoes to fill.

“He has done an amazing job,” said Navarro. “No one wants to see him leave.”

Navarro said she hopes the rumors fade away so that the School Board can focus on more pressing issues. “These rumors I feel have been concerning, at least to me, because there’s a large task at hand at this moment with the [state] budget and the issues that we face,” she said, adding that if the board is forced to find a replacement, she hopes any future superintendents are “apolitical.”

Kyra Gurney: 305-376-3205, @KyraGurney