VIERA, Fla. — Following an announcement at the end of the last regular meeting, the school board for Brevard Public Schools published the paperwork outline for removing the district’s superintendent.
The agenda for Monday’s special school board meeting was published on Thursday, but the actual document with specifics on the “mutual separation agreement” between BPS and Superintendent Dr. Mark Mullins wasn’t published until late afternoon on Friday.
The seven-page document fills in some of the details on Mullins' likely departure. The board is set to vote on the agreement following the public comment period. The meeting Monday will begin at 9 a.m. Eastern Time.
The tentative agreement between the School Board of Brevard County (SBBC) would mark a third amendment to Mullins’ employment agreement and have him “voluntarily resign effective December 31, 2022.”
Within his severance package, Mullins will be paid for the 331 hours of accrued, but unused, vacation and 545.875 hours of sick leave. He will also receive severance pay equal to 20 weeks of his salary, “which will include the salary increase given to all administrative employees for Fiscal Year 2023 retroactive to July 1, 2022.”
Mullins will also be allowed to remain on this current health insurance plan for 20 weeks beginning Jan. 1, 2023, as well as having his attorney’s fees covered up to $10,000.
The document doesn’t state how much the severance would end up costing the school district.
Monday’s meeting comes on the heels of Mullins winning one of two STAR Superintendent awards from the Consortium of Florida Education Foundations on Nov. 30.
District 5 School Board Member Katye Campbell was with Mullins for the reception of that award. Following the board meeting on Nov. 22, she said in a statement that she was “extremely saddened” by the announcement of Mullins’ likely exodus from the district.
“Rumors had been going around that this might come up. I did not know if there would be three people willing to move in this direction or if they would actually do it at our very first meeting together,” Campbell said.
“I am not surprised that Dr. Mullins offered to step down. Who would want to work in an environment where you wondered if your job was at risk every board meeting? It would be unfair. I expected nothing less than the gracious way he handled things. He is a true servant-leader.”
Board shifts leadership
Newly elected SBBC Vice Chair Megan Wright said about a week-and-a half before the Nov. 22 meeting that she sat down with Mullins and told him that she planned to bring up the discussion of changing superintendents during the meeting.
“I said out of respect for you as a leader, I want to let you know because I don’t want you caught off guard by this. And I have no idea where my fellow board members stand on this matter,” Wright said, summarizing part of her dialogue with Mullins. “But I’m just going to tell you, this is the motion, you know, I will be bringing it up for discussion. I don’t want to add it to the agenda because that causes a lot of unnecessary drama ahead of time that I think we don’t really, we don’t need that right now.”
After winning her election in August, Wright said people in the district told her that Mullins was “a great guy, but he’s not a strong leader.” Wright pointed to the resignation of 42 teachers and some attrition of students to homeschooling, charter schools and private schools as some of the reasons why she felt new leadership was needed.
“Really what that says to me, as someone coming in from an outside perspective, is our product is failing,” Wright said. “We need students, we need teachers and we’re losing both of them right now. And unfortunately, it’s under his leadership that a lot of the policies have been written or directed. And I think it’s an end result to where we are right now.”
Tina Descovich, a former member of the school board and a co-founder of the conservative advocacy nonprofit Moms for Liberty took to Facebook following the decision by the board to move toward removing Mullins from the superintendent post.
She stated that Mullins “always carried out the will of the board” and said that the board would likely “have a hard time finding someone to measure up” to replace him.
“In my opinion, there have been many failures of the board in the last two years, but the blame should lie with the school board,” Descovich wrote. “The superintendent is an employee of the board, and his job is to carry out the will of the board.”
The Brevard County Moms for Liberty Chapter backed the candidacy of both Wright and District 2 Board Member Gene Trent in the 2022 election. Both members joined with new Board Chair Matt Susin in voting to move forward with replacing Mullins as superintendent.
District 3 Board Member Jennifer Jenkins, who opposed the idea of removing Mullins as superintendent, said from her perspective, the move is unnecessary and destabilizing.
“I am 100% concerned about this decision. I am not only concerned that they’re removing a man who is the leader of Brevard Public Schools, I am concerned about the effects that will take place after that, leading down to our cabinet, to our administrators, eventually to our teachers and bleeding into the business community itself,” Jenkins said.
What and who comes next?
If the school board moves forward with accepting the mutual separation agreement on Monday, that will formally kick off the process of finding a replacement for Mullins.
Neither a timeline nor a method of finding a replacement have been discussed publicly at this point, but Wright said her ideal timeline would be to have someone new by the end of December, when Mullins would end his tenure.
“That would probably be sufficient, but I don’t know. I don’t know if that gives us enough time to find someone in the interim because it’s going to take some time to really screen candidates and find the right person that can deliver to our district what we need,” Wright said.
As for who could be a successor to Mullins, Wright said she hopes it is someone from beyond the Space Coast.
“My No. 1 criteria for what I would prefer is someone that is not within Brevard County Public Schools and someone that has a history of building districts that are in trouble or helping them that are in trouble,” Wright said. “I assume this is something that we’ll discuss when we have our workshop in the first week of December.”
This search is not unique to Brevard County. Multiple school districts across the State of Florida saw candidates backed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and/or Moms for Liberty shift school boards to the right and then move quickly to begin replacing superintendents.
The Washington Post reported that in addition to Brevard, new conservative-majority school boards in Sarasota and Duval counties both ousted their superintendents and are now seeking replacements.
That, coupled with counties like Lee, Miami-Dade, Orange and Pinellas all naming new superintendents in 2022, makes some people like Campbell worried about the prospects of finding a good, qualified candidate.
“That will all have to be planned by the board in future meetings,” Campbell said. “Yes, school districts across the country are looking for new leaders, and it will most assuredly be challenging.”
Jenkins said she believes it’s worse than that. She argues that the shift is having negative ripple effects beyond the school system.
“I think it’s insanity. I think it’s the worst decision for Brevard,” Jenkins said after the Nov. 22 board meeting. “I’m already hearing rumblings within the business community, as well as our nonprofit organizations, about how upset they are about the destabilization of Brevard Public Schools because of this decision.”
Not the only one
Mullins is not the only one who is set to leave BPS in the near future. In a joint email sent Friday, Dr. Beth Thedy, the deputy superintendent and chief human resources officer; and Christine Moore, the assistant superintendent for student services, sent in a joint email issuing statements of retirement.
BPS spokesperson Russell Bruhn said they have a combined 67 years with the district.
“I am deeply indebted to and remain in awe of the leadership team of BPS, as your steadfast commitment to the vision and mission of this school district, along with your dedicated staff, have made this district exemplary,” Thedy wrote in her retirement statement.
Both Thedy and Moore stated that they will retire in January 2023, but they didn’t explicitly state why they were stepping down now.
According to her LinkedIn page, Moore describes her job duties in part as “setting policy and training for student safety and well-being, including threat assessments, suicide risk process and crisis response.” The entry also states that as the liaison to the Florida Department of Health in Brevard County, she’s responsible for “setting all infectious disease policy and procedures within the district.”
Her purview also extends to the school’s discipline plan, which has recently come under scrutiny by the new school board.
During a June 2020 workshop regarding the districtwide behavior plan, she noted that under the 2015 discipline plan, as of the 2018-19 school year, BPS was No. 7 in the State of Florida when it came to expelling students with disabilities and No. 2for expelling general education students.
The district was also No. 6 when it came to out-of-school suspensions and No. 2 in the state when it came to suspending kindergarten students.
“Discipline is not the research-backed way to change students' behavior, and in fact, what we can tell you about the research on suspension is that it actually lowers achievement, it lowers graduation rates, needless to say, it lowers attendance, but nowhere does it impact behavior,” Moore said during that June 2020 workshop.
Despite new approaches to the behavior plan being approved by the school board and implemented in recent years, incidents of student disruptions and poor behavior persisted.
In an announcement in front of the Brevard County Jail on Monday, School Board Chair Matt Susin and Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey described the need for “a new day” for school discipline.
"Quite frankly, they're not worried about getting in trouble," Ivey said. "They know nothing's gonna happen to them. They know they're not going to be given after school detention, they're not going to be suspended. They're not going to be expelled, or like in the old days, they're not gonna have the cheeks of their ass torn off for not doing right in class."
The vice president for the Brevard Federation of Teachers echoed the need for a change in policy during an interview with Spectrum News 13 this week.
“Most calls we get [at the teacher’s union] office are about discipline,” Vanessa Skipper said. “They’re about students, teachers being frustrated because they’ve been hit, they’ve been kicked, they’ve been bitten.”
In her retirement statement sent Friday, Moore thanked the district leadership that “made me a better person and leader.”
“I’m so proud of the work we have accomplished together. I will take the gifts you have given me and continue to serve our community and children,” Moore wrote.
The school board will discuss Mullins’ departure and the next steps for the superintendent search during a special board meeting on Monday, Dec. 5. On Thursday, Dec. 8, they will address the district’s discipline policies and procedures as well as the book review committee, the teacher salary agreement and the length of time that residents can speak during public comment.