The Flagler School Board on Tuesday evening voted not to renew Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt’s contract, despite a near-unanimous showing of support for her from public commenters. The vote was 3-2, with freshman members Will Furry, Christy Chong, and Sally Hunt forming a majority. Colleen Conklin and Cheryl Massaro were in the minority.
The decision not to bring Mittelstadt back was made much to the chagrin of the majority of the meeting’s attendees; some two and a half dozen commenters lent their passionate support to Mittelstadt versus only two against her. Those two were Charlene Cothran, a self-described minister who was ejected for a homophobic affront to Mittelstadt, and Greg Blosé, the Chairman and CEO of the Palm Coast-Flagler Regional Chamber of Commerce.
The school district will now need to enter into a superintendent search to appoint Mittelstadt’s successor. For a district which moves on from its superintendents with relative regularity it will be a familiar, if arduous, hiring process.
“32 comments. 30 in support of Superintendent Mittelstadt 2 against. A dozen or more positive emails and this Board decides to nonrenew her,” said Conklin in a frustrated Facebook post after the meeting. “[Shaking my head]”.
Teachers and faculty were among those criticizing the three School Board members who voted for non-renewal, with one teacher calling them “a disgrace to public education” on social media. Another non-educational staff member simply called the vote “disgraceful”.
“I do think the turnover says a lot,” said Chong during the meeting, referencing a number of changes in the principal positions in Flagler’s schools. She acknowledged that one such change was due to the untimely passing of Principal James T. Russell of Flagler Palm Coast High School, but still asserted that the amount of recent changes was counter to a point many used in favor of retaining Mittelstadt: stability.
The main issue brought up by Blosé was a series of readiness scores in different subjects in Flagler County, which he pointed to as evidence students were becoming less prepared under Mittelstadt’s leadership. Others pointed to the pandemic as more responsible for these trends than the superintendent.
Brought up repeatedly throughout the evening was a statement released by Blosé’s chamber rallying for Mittelstadt’s nonrenewal. The role of the chamber and the business community was called into question, and Blosé’s judgment was scrutinized. Some also named attorney Michael Chiumento, a frequent counsel of developers and businesses, for his contact with Hunt in the weeks leading up to the meeting. Chiumento was not present and has persistently declined to comment publicly or to news outlets since his involvement became known.
Also brought up was the divide on the Board along lines of experience. Conklin having served since 2000 and Massaro since 2020 both supported a contract renewal. Hunt, Furry, and Chong, all elected in 2022, sided against it.
All in all, the decision to move on from Mittelstadt comes as one of the most stark departures from public sentiment in the School Board’s recent history; like most elected boards in Flagler County the School Board is usually susceptible to change in the face of overwhelming public consensus. That was unarguably present at Tuesday’s meeting, leaving many in attendance disappointed. The sentiments of the community at large can’t be reliably reflected without scientific polling, but the will of those who participated can’t be realistically denied.