Tyler Vazquez, Florida Today
Superintendent Mark Mullins and Brevard’s new conservative-majority board made their separation official Monday, with Mullins agreeing to serve out the rest of the year before stepping down.
Under the deal hammered out Monday, Mullins will serve as superintendent until Dec. 31 and then receive 20 weeks of pay and continued benefits. The terms of separation are exactly what Mullins would receive if he had been fired without cause.
For more nearly three decades, Dr. Mullins served as an administrator with BPS, most recently as chief operating officer before he became superintendent in 2018. But culture war clashes over the mask mandates during the novel coronavirus pandemic, and policies over transgender students’ rights have stirred conservative angst leading to a board shakeup and calls for Mullins’ departure.
At the first meeting of the new school board in November, it was decided that Mullins would be leaving the district while the school board went in a new direction in terms of leadership.
Mullins said there was no intention by the board to schedule the meeting at 9 a.m. on a Monday in order to prevent public attendance and input. He said he sought to schedule the special meeting as soon as possible so that the separation agreement could be wrapped up quickly. The meeting time, he said, was a mutual decision along with board chair Matt Susin. He described the separation process as “amicable” and that the agreement itself was fair.
“Life presents us the ending of chapters, some that we anticipate and some that we don’t … New chapters bring new opportunities, new adventures and that’s how I view this,” Mullins said at the meeting in his departure statements from the dais.
“I will forever cherish my time as an educator with Brevard Public Schools,” he added, saying that he holds no grudges and wished the board well. He said he wants nothing but the best for BPS and students across the Space Coast. Many people showed up Monday morning to show support for Mullins, who they felt was unfairly pushed out of his job.
Bernard Brian, President of the South Brevard NAACP, was one of those who had glowing words for Mullins, but also questions about the goals of the board. “Thank you so much for your collaborative spirit. Thank you for training me when I first became part of the Brevard Public Schools partnership team,” Brian said. “It was said that we’re looking for new leadership. One of the things the community has concerns about is what was the community lacking under this leadership? What were the values that were not met? We want to make sure the next leader meets those values. I hope this leadership team will consider every child, each child… I’m thankful that under Dr. Mullins’ leadership, that’s what we saw. “
Others like Brevard resident and parent Jennifer Nagy had stronger words for the board.
“It feels like this was politically motivated or even personally motivated. You are leaving us without leadership mid-year. Please behave like the people I thought you could be,” Nagy said.
Not everyone present at Monday’s meeting was against Mullins leaving. Conservative activist Janice Crisp said Mullins leaving is a reflection of the wishes of voters who brought in new board members to take the district in a new direction. “You not only supported but you encouraged these actions by the past board. That is why they are not sitting here today and that is why you have been removed as well,” she said.
School board member Jennifer Jenkins said she had not heard any solid reasons why the district and Mullins should end their contract early. Jenkins cited Mullins scores on previous evaluations, pointing out that he was well above average across all criteria and still was pushed out of his position. She said it might be a signal to future candidates for superintendent that their job might not be safe despite high performance.
New school board member Megan Wright said she understands many people might not like the decision but that it is an important part of moving the school district in a new direction. She praised Mullins for his transparency and communication during the process. “We have drastic changes that need to come in our schools,” Wright said. “Our teachers are screaming for these changes. They are needing help. This is the reason behind it. Dr. Mullins is an excellent man, the community will agree with that. I agree with that.”
Mullins’ career with Brevard Public Schools began in 1994. Starting as a math teacher at Cocoa Beach Jr./Sr. High, he rose through the ranks as an assistant principal of Southwest Middle School and Palm Bay High School and then the principal of the now closed Clearlake Middle School. For six years, he oversaw the 29 schools and principals in the south part of the county as an area superintendent.
He then worked as the Chief Operating Officer where he oversaw the district’s budget and staff for the district’s transportation services, food and nutrition services, purchasing and warehouse services and school security.
The school board unconventionally hired Mullins to succeed former superintendent Desmond Blackburn in 2018 without hiring a search firm to find outside candidates or conducting interviews for any of the 12 applicants before making their decision.
New superintendent searchAfter the criteria of superintendent’s separation agreement were settled, board members discussed the nuts and bolts of hiring both an interim superintendent and a permanent one to oversee the district with less than a month to go before the job needs to be filled.
The board also decided to allow the interim superintendent to apply for the job permanently. When an interim superintendent is allowed to apply for the permanent job, it can be a disincentive for outside candidates to apply as they can perceive the job going to the interim as a foregone conclusion, Susin said.