The School District of Palm Beach County has been thrown into a leaderless turmoil yet again with this week’s surprise resignation announcement by Superintendent Dr. Robert Avossa, who will be leaving his position in June after just three years at the helm.
Avossa came to Palm Beach County from Georgia after a national search. He brought solid credentials and seemed to be making some headway with his five-year strategic plan. He certainly made a few good moves along the way. In February 2016, he pulled a move out of the “downsize government” playbook, eliminating nearly 60 positions in the district’s regional offices, reducing staffs by more than half, eliminating what he has called “redundancy built into the system,” and channeled the approximately $4.5 million saved into the poorest schools within Palm Beach County.
More recently, he helped successfully sell a sales surtax for much-needed facility improvements across the district. And he scored major points with district personnel last September in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, by closing schools in advance (to allow employees time to prepare for the storm) and extending closure of the district for a full week afterward (to allow those same employees time to return home, assess, restock and recover).
Just two months ago, there was a sizable potential raise being discussed by the school board. Turns out, while the idea was being discussed, Avossa was approached by Palm Beach Gardens-based LRP Publications. In June, he will become LRP’s senior vice president and publisher of education products.
Board members were blindsided by the announcement. For someone who has pledged “recruit, reward, retain” when coming to hiring teachers for the district, Avossa chose not to “walk the walk.” And educators are well aware of this. They saw the money spent on a nationwide search that led to Avossa. They see the money that has traditionally been wasted at the district offices. They see the constant battle for tiny salary increases that their bargaining unit members approve because bread crumbs are better than complete starvation.
To many, Avossa’s resignation of the $325,000-a-year position constitutes the equivalent of a restaurant “dine and dash.” Yes, he made a few good decisions, but was it really worthy of the nearly $1 million investment. It’s really bad optics when a leader is talking about making reforms, helping underprivileged communities, helping schools which are at the highest risk… and then jumps ship, quitting midstream for a private sector job.
Avossa claims the move will allow him to “spend more time with family.” We’ve heard that before, and roll our eyes. In 1999, just one day after quitting to spend more time with his family, Miami Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson decided to keep his job… which must have done wonders for his family’s self-esteem. In 2010, Urban Meyer cited this for leaving his head coaching position at Florida… and then got the lead position at Ohio State a year later.
Whoever replaces Avossa — and all signs indicate it will be an internal promotion, not an external search — will be the district’s fourth superintendent in a decade. In a profession where continuity is crucial, such continual upheaval at the top means a total lack thereof. Let’s hope that this time, the school board finally gets it right.