Seminole Co., Florida (ECWd) -
Schools are supposed to be in place for educational purposes. What did the students learn from the recent events involving the hiring of a new School Superintendent? We pose this question because of one board member's comments.
"I have reached the conclusion that, as a body, we have failed my kids, and we have failed your kids." (Amy Pennock - Seminole County School Board Member)
We agree with Ms. Pennock's statement above and while she does raise numerous other concerns, we are going to focus on the troubling findings in our short time looking into the school's process of hiring a new Superintendent and explain how those actions tie directly to the above comment from board member Pennock.
School boards adopt policies. Those policies are supposed to be enforced and followed. When they are not enforced and followed it points to a disregard for the rules, a common problem in today's society.
The School board adopted Roberts Rules of Order. The School board violated their policy when they voted to rescind the vote where a candidate for superintendent was hired. Violated, because Roberts Rules of Order 35:6 (c) forbids rescinding a vote when the person elected was officially notified of the action. Even if a vote to rescind was allowed, in the situation at Seminole County, it would require a 2/3rds vote to pass, which it did not, yet the school legal counsel said it could be done. (minutes from the meeting)
The messages sent to students and taxpayers in this district?
- The School Board is not bound by any policy
- Conflicts of interest don't matter - The legal counsel for the board provided legal advice, deficient in our opinion, that directly benefited his superior.
The requirements for the next superintendent listed two key items.
- Master’s Degree required; earned doctorate degree from an accredited college or university is preferred.
- Ten years of successful administration/managerial experience required.
The person now hired, Sarita Beamon, does not have a Master's Degree according to her candidate application. While she does have a Juris Doctorate, that is not the same as a Masters or Doctorate Degree. Nor does her application appear to disclose ten years of administration/managerial experience, successful or otherwise.
The message sent to students and taxpayers in this district?
- Criteria for hiring does not matter.
The board policy on employment of the Superintendent has an interesting paragraph worth noting.
"Any candidate's intentional misstatement of fact material to his/her qualifications for employment or the determination of his/her salary shall be considered by this Board to constitute grounds for his/her dismissal. "
Ms. Beamon states a fact material to her qualifications on her application.
“Florida Bar Board Certified Specialist - Education Law
One of 52 attorneys recognized by the Florida Bar as an expert in Education Law”
Did the Florida Bar recognize her as an expert in Education law? We say no, they did not.
What they recognize regarding Ms. Beamon is she is Board Certified in Education Law. By claiming the Florida Bar recognized her as an expert it appears to misrepresent the plain language from the Bar. “Board-certified attorneys are the only Florida lawyers allowed to identify themselves as Florida Bar Board Certified "specialists” or “experts” or to use "B.C.S." to indicate Board Certified Specialist.”
We raised this issue directly with Ms. Beamon and she has refused to answer our questions. Specifically, we asked, "Isn't it true the Florida Bar only recognizes you as Board Certified, which allows you to identify as an expert”?"
Prior to publication, we gave her another chance to answer our questions on this matter and last night we received this response, which you will see has nothing to do with the question we raised.
“On Monday, March 1, 2021, the School Board of Seminole County, Inc. voted to select Serita Beamon as the new Superintendent for Seminole County Public Schools (SCPS). Mrs. Beamon has more than 16-years of experience with SCPS, previously serving as the School Board Attorney/Executive Director of Legal Services and has been a part of SCPS Superintendent Dr. Walt Griffin’s District Leadership Team (Cabinet) for many years. She officially becomes the 11th Superintendent for the district and begins her tenure on July 1, 2021.”
We also gave her a chance to respond to Uniserv Executive Director Chardo Richardson's quote found in this article.
"Uniserv Executive Director Chardo Richardson was on the search committee and was one of the 21 members who made a recommendation. All 21 supported Beamon, where as only 13 endorsed Farnsworth."
“She was recognized by the Florida Bar as one of the top leading experts,” Richardson details from his Altamonte office. “I believe she was top 56 in the state of Florida leading experts in public education law.”
Ms. Beamon refused to respond, however, we did receive a response to the above, through the school media person.
"In response to your recent email inquiry to Mrs. Beamon, you'll need to follow-up with Mr. Richardson regarding any statements or claims he made as we wouldn't be able to substantiate any claims, interpretation, or context of an interview we weren't part of."
So not only is Ms. Beamon not willing to answer our questions, she refuses to repudiate what is clearly a false claim by Mr. Richardson, a member of the search committee who supported her hiring. We reached out to Mr. Richardson but have not received any response.
So there is no confusion, the Florida Bar does not 'rate" the Board Certified attorneys in Florida. So for Mr. Richardson to claim he believes she was top 56 in the state raises the question as to why he believes something that is clearly not true. Where would he draw the opinion Ms. Beamon is recognized by the Florida Bar as one of the top leading experts? Was it from her application which appears to misrepresent the truth of the matter?
In communicating my concerns on this matter to the Florida Bar, they pointed me to the Florida Rule RULE 4-7.14 POTENTIALLY MISLEADING ADVERTISEMENTS, the applicable portion below.
RULE 4-7.14 POTENTIALLY MISLEADING ADVERTISEMENTS. A lawyer may not engage in potentially misleading advertising.(a) Potentially Misleading Advertisements. Potentially misleading advertisements include, but are not limited to:
(1) advertisements that are subject to varying reasonable interpretations, 1 or more of which would be materially misleading when considered in the relevant context
(2) advertisements that are literally accurate, but could reasonably mislead a prospective client regarding a material fact;
While we agree Ms. Beamon is Board Certified by the Florida Bar in Education Law, we do not agree that the Florida Bar recognizes her as an expert. While her application may be literally accurate as it relates to being board certified, we believe claiming the Bar recognizes her as an expert could reasonably mislead the School Board and those on the search committee, such as Chardo Richardson as evidenced by his false assertions. The way it is written appears to use the Florida Bar as an endorsement.
The message sent to the students and taxpayers of the district?
- You don't have to answer questions when you're in charge.
- You don't have to be clear on your job applications.
- It's OK to stay silent when others misrepresent the truth about your credentials.
As this relates to Mr. Farnsworth, the person first selected, we find one particular statement quoted from his letter in this article to be disturbing.
"Farnsworth wrote he “sat back in silence out of respect for the (hiring) process, though I have found (the board’s) process to be terribly flawed.”
Staying silent solves nothing. When you know a process is flawed, speak up. While Farnsworth clearly has a legal recourse he could take against the School Board, one must ask, do you want leaders that sit silent when they know things are broken?
That question applies to Beamon as well. Let's not forget, she was the legal counsel for the board and has said nothing to our knowledge about the violation of policy by the board she is supposed to be representing, nor has she been willing to correct false statements made by members of the search committee regarding her alleged recognition by the Florida Bar.
Ms. Pennock appears to be the lone board member who has recognized the importance of identifying failures that directly impact the future of this school district.
We agree with her call for a full investigation into the matter surrounding the hiring of the school's next superintendent, which we agree with Mr. Farnsworth, was terribly flawed.
Our suggestion to the School Board:
- Terminate your legal counsel, which in our opinion was a key factor contributing to the mess you find yourselves in.
- Question each board member under oath of perjury regarding discussions with other board members outside of a meeting, including emails, texts, and phone calls.
- Consider following your own policy on the employment of the Superintendent and determine whether or not misrepresentations were made on the applications.
Failure to address these matters is sure to teach the students that rules don't matter.