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University of North Florida President John Delaney talks about the departure of Duval Superintendent Nikolai Vitti and other topics at the Economic Roundtable of Jacksonville on Wednesday at Jacksonville University. He was joined by Florida State Col...
Jax Daily Record Thursday, Apr. 20, 201712:00 PM EST

Delaney calls for appointed school board

College presidents react to Vitti leaving

Calling it a “problematic” governance structure, University of North Florida President John Delaney called again Wednesday for an appointed, rather than elected, Duval County School Board.

“I floated the idea twice in my career and it didn’t get much traction,” Delaney, a former mayor, said Wednesday at the Economic Roundtable of Jacksonville meeting held at the Jacksonville University campus.

“I think the school board probably should be an appointed board rather than an elected board,” he said.

Delaney, along with JU President Tim Cost and Florida State College at Jacksonville President Cynthia Bioteau, responded to a question about the likely departure of Duval Superintendent Nikolai Vitti for a job heading Detroit’s public schools.

Vitti was offered the job Tuesday and the Duval County School Board decided not to make a counteroffer. Vitti is negotiating terms and has not said when he will move to Detroit.

“That is an extremely talented man who is leaving town,” Cost said.

“I think all of us who believe that Jacksonville, Florida, can be great have to take a long, hard look at the way the governance structure is set up and works,” he said.

Cost called him an “innovator.”

The three college presidents served on a panel discussion about the roles they and their institutions serve in the community.

One of those roles is as business leaders. All three are active in the JAX Chamber and its JAXUSA Partnership economic-development division and the Jacksonville Civic Council of area leaders who make recommendations on civic issues.

Cost said Vitti is discussed at those meetings.

“You might be interested to know how often this subject is discussed at the executive committee of the Civic Council, chamber of commerce, JAX USA,” Cost said.

“This is important,” he said. “We talk a lot about Dr. Vitti and what it represents for him to be stepping aside in the way it happened,” he said.

Cost said Vitti’s wife, Rachel, serves on the JU Board of Trustees.

Nikolai Vitti interviewed for the Detroit job after disagreements with some school board members. A well-publicized rift with then board Chair Ashley Smith Juarez in September over academic progress led to a public call for productive, rather than disruptive, communication.

On Sept. 21, the Civic Council, JAX Chamber, The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida, Jacksonville Public Education Fund and United Way of Northeast Florida announced support for the Duval County School Board and Vitti to “work through the challenging task of improving mutual cooperation and respect while focusing on overall student achievement with bold reforms and measurable outcomes.”

Audrey Moran, the 2016 JAX Chamber chair, said in the release that “substantial progress” had been made in Duval County Public Schools under Vitti’s leadership

Vitti has been on the job for almost five years, which Delaney noted is about the average tenure of a school superintendent.

Delaney said the state Constitution would need to be changed to set up an appointed rather than an elected school board.

The board comprises seven members elected from seven districts comprising two adjoining City Council districts.

“President Delaney has been a forceful advocate for the idea he just put on the table,” Cost said.

Cost said there were addendums, such as whether and how much members would be paid, and other factors.

Delaney, a Republican, served as Jacksonville mayor from 1995-2003. He recently announced he will retire from the UNF presidency as his contract runs out May 30, 2018, after 15 years but has not talked about his next move.

The three college presidents said they worked closely with Vitti and the public schools for the benefit of students.

For example, Delaney said UNF provides successful teachers to the school system, and Bioteau said FSCJ supports early college career academies that provide coursework and training in high schools and on the college campus in partnership with local employers.

Bioteau emphasized the need for sustainability of educational programs rather than focus on who leads them.

“I want longevity not based on personality but based on infrastructure and procedures, and I will tell you FSCJ and the Duval County public school system have extraordinarily strong programs that are sustainable regardless of who our education leaders are,” she said.

The three wished Vitti, a Detroit-area native, well.

“He is going to do very well wherever he goes,” Cost said.

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