Documents show fractured relationship between fired Alachua County superintendent and school board
GAINESVILLE, Florida. — School board member performance reviews submitted last month show there was ongoing tension between former Alachua County Schools Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon and board members — and that tension may have played a role in his dismissal.
Simon was fired by a split school board Tuesday night, 3-2, ending her contentious 15-month run as superintendent.
Board member Mildred Russell wrote in her review, “We need to resolve the tension between board members.”
Council member Dr Leanetta McNealy, who voted to keep Simon, acknowledged the council’s continuing problems.
“We are dysfunctional and I am part of that dysfunction. I cause dysfunction and all my other colleagues cause dysfunction,” McNealy said Tuesday night.
Russell specifically mentioned board member Dr. Gunnar Paulson and his troubled relationship with Simon in his review.
“I mostly think [the working relationship between the school board and the superintendent] is good, with the exception of Dr. Paulson. This must be resolved for the good of all. I don’t know what positive steps the Superintendent has taken to improve this relationship. We cannot be as effective as we need to be when there are tensions. The superintendent wants to bring someone in to work with us on teamwork and working together effectively. Maybe that would resolve the situation with Dr. Paulson,” Russell wrote.
Dr Paulson was particularly critical of Simon in his performance review, saying she lacked qualifications and giving her the lowest possible rating of “unsatisfactory”.
He referred to his review before voting to terminate Simon’s contract which was only due to expire in June 2023.
“Go see my review, it’s pretty comprehensive and make your own decision,” Paulson said Tuesday night.
Paulson said he “strongly supports” the advice and Dr. Simon’s decision to push for masks in schools despite a statewide ban on mandates, but added: “Dr. Simon’s highly critical approach with Department of Education staff has further alienated our district’s interactions with the Department of Education.”
READ: Board member Tina Certain’s performance review | Advice from Board Member Robert Hyatt | Opinion of Leanetta McNealy, Member of the Board of Directors
Simon clashed with the Department of Education over the ban on mask mandates, and the Tampa Bay Times called her “the face of the Florida mask battle.”
Paulson also criticized other decisions by Simon – including his non-renewal of nine directors and “the failure to build useful and positive relationships” – and was one of three board members who have voted for Simon’s dismissal.
Council members McNealy and Tina Certain voted against his dismissal.
Russell, who was appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis at the height of the mask battle, also voted to fire Russell after giving him a “developing” rating on his exam. Simon said she believed Russell was tricked into firing her as a reward for her stance on the masks.
“I think I knew the minute DeSantis put Mildred in his place in August that that was his intention,” Simon told News4JAX. “We had had a pretty good working relationship, so I was really disappointed that she was willing to come out and do what we know she was put there to do.”
A DeSantis spokesperson denied the charge.
“The governor exercised his constitutional authority to fill a vacancy on the Alachua School Board when he appointed Mildred Russell last year,” Christina Pushaw wrote in a statement to News4JAX.
Simon acknowledged to News4JAX that there was a fractured relationship between her and Paulson and said she believed she had been caught up in the general dysfunction of the board.
“Honestly, I believe there’s a disagreement between the members of the board. It even comes from the fact that I was appointed to the position you know, it’s partly, obviously, about me, but I think there is another part of the settling of scores between board members who felt they were unhappy with the way my position was set up,” Simon said.
Board Chairman Robert Hyatt, who voted to fire Simon, gave him a “needs improvement” assessment and gave him low marks in areas such as building community support for district priorities and understanding of district functions and operations.
“Dr. Simon was hired as a temp and the [sic] installed as a superintendent with minimal community input,” Hyatt wrote in his review. “She received the highest salary in district history as well as a lengthy contract. The 3-2 vote represented a divided Council, which was not a promising start. The Council has been effective in its response to COVID, although we have failed in many other areas. »
News4JAX has attempted to contact board members several times over the past two days to inquire about their decision to fire Simon, but has received no response.
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