'Handwriting was on the wall' for School Superintendent Margaret Smith with today's expected retirement

Smith letter / Headline Surfer®Mrgaret Smith / Headline Surfer®Headline Surfer® photos /
Margaret Smith, Volusia County's longtime School Superintendent, informed her administrative staff in a memo Thursday she was going to retire, effective today.
 

DELAND, Fla. -- The way School Board member Melody McSorley Johnson sees it, colleague John Hill's public demand for the firing of the superintendent of schools before speaking to her privately, may not have been in good taste, but she was quick to add "the handwriting was on the wall" regarding Margaret Smith's decision to retire as soon as today.

"Yeah, it could have been handled better -- I don't agree the way it was done, but I think she realized the handwriting was on the wall," said Johnson, the district 5 representative from Deltona, elected into office in 2014, with fellow newcomers Hill and Linda Curthbert of Edgewater. "As a mother of three children who attend Volusia County Schools, I see a new chapter about to be written. This new chapter should not only guide us as to the path to take, but also to remind us that our children are the faces of the future." 

Melody McSorley Jonson / Headline Surfer®"Yeah, it could have been handled better -- I don't agree the way it was done, but I think she realized the handwriting was on the wall," said Johnson, the district 5 representative from Deltona, elected into office in 2014, with Hill and Linda Cuthbert of Edgewater. "As a mother of three children who attend Volusia County Schools, I see a new chapter about to be written. This new chapter should not only guide us as to the path to take, but also to remind us that our children are the faces of the future." 

Nothing could be more true from Hill's perspective, either. He readily acknowledged perhaps he could have used more sensitivity in his demand on Jan. 13, which did not resuilt in a vote, but from Hill's perspective, Smith, superintendent since 2004, had grown long in the tooth and he wasn't going to allow her to ride out a year-long departure Smith had worked out with the previous School Board in October, a month before the change over to the new board.

"It's way past time that this district was accountable and appropriate with taxpayer dollars," said Hill of DeLand. "I will not sit on a board that allows the activities that were pointed out to occur."

Parents like Theresa Taylor Young of DeLand were quick to get behind the district 1 school board member for taking charge despite criticism from Smith and her supporters that she was blindsided: "This was the right move! Thank you Dr. John John Hill!"

Theresa Taylor Young of DeLand supports School Board member John Hill / Headline Surfer®Parents like Theresa Taylor Young of DeLand were quick to get behind the district 1 school board member for taking charge in calling for the departure of longtime Volusia County School Superintendent Margaret Smith, despite criticism from Smith herself and her supporters that she was blindsided:

"This was the right move! Thank you Dr. John John Hill!"

Hill seemingly came out off nowhere at the Jan. 13 meeting, blasting Smith and calling on his colleagues to fire her, accusing her of "incompetence," in dealing with expenditures and encouraging a culture of fiscal irresponsibility highlighted by two employees being allowed to fly to Orlando on a private plane to have dinner with a curriculum vendor at its expense.

Though Smith denied the accusations, she's been quiet since sending out a letter to administrative staff on Thursday, acknowledging her intent to retire effective today following a vote of the School Board on a severance package drawn up by the School Board's attorney, Ted Doran of Daytona Beach.

Smith, who is paid $171,665 annually in base salary, is expected to receive a maximum of 20 weeks of salary and benefits, as allowed under Florida law, with the payout coming within 15 days. It includes any deferred and performance compensation and any unused sick and vacation time. 

Smith's contract calls for her  to receive to 18 months of pay and benefits, if terminated, but that's not in line with update state limits to curb excessive golden parachutes.

And in the wake of Hill's open criticism, the two sides will agree to refrain from any “derogatory, false, belittling, derisive, disparaging, libelous or negative remarks," with the exit retirement package to be voted on at the 4 p.m. meeting at district headquarters in DeLand. Smith, 74, had said in November she intended to retire at the end of her current contract in March 2017, but that was before Hill called her out.

Edgewater's Cuthbert, herself a former teacher in the school district, said hopefully the compromises reached with Smith will allow the School Board to get back to pressing business moving forward.

"Let us not be defined by what others say is acceptable or not acceptable," Cuthbert told Headline Surfer®. "As elected board members, we need to focus on what is really happening right now: district accreditation, Florida Standards Assessment testing, new legislative initiatives, salary negotiations with our 3 unions...plus the needless cost of paying out of her contract."

Linda Cuthbert / Headline Surfer®"Let us not be defined by what others say is acceptable or not acceptable," district 3 School Board member Linda Cuthbert told Headline Surfer®. "As elected board members, we need to focus on what is really happening right now: district accreditation, Florida Standards Assessment testing, new legislative initiatives, salary negotiations with our 3 unions...plus the needless cost of paying out of her contract." 

Robert Moll or Jim Tager likely choices for interim superintendent

Asst Superintendents Robert Moll  and Jim Tager / Headline Surfer®The School Board is expected to name either Assistant Superintendents Robert Moll or Jim Tager as the interim superintendent until a permanent successor to Smith is hired.

Moll is the No. 2 longtime assistant superintendent under Smith, whio oversees the district's finances an business operations.

Tager, was promoted to deputy superintendentfor instructional services last year.  is the former four-year principal of New Smyrna Beach High School, which earned an "A" school-designation under his leadership. Before that, he was principl of New Smyrna Beach Middle School.

 

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Short Bio

Henry Frederick is publisher of Headline Surfer®, the award-winning 24/7 internet news outlet covering the Daytona Beach-Sanford-Orlando metro area via HeadlineSurfer.com for a decade now. A longtime cops & courts reporter focused on breaking news & investigative reporting, Frederick is among the Sunshine State's most prolific daily news reporters, having amassed dozens of journalism-industry awards in print anddigital platforms. Frederick is enrolled at Full Sail University in Winter Garden, FL, where he's three-fourths through the online Master of Arts program in New Media Journalism. His graduation is in August.