Channel 4's Jason Law interviewed Duval County School Board Chair Betty Burney. The interview was done over the phone while Burney was at the Daytona 500 race, so portions of it were inaudible and have been noted.
Channel 4: We haven't talked to you yet, so I was interested to, just if you can, walk us through what happened with the board's decision. Can you start from the beginning and tell us how we got here.
Betty Burney: As you know the board has disclose that we (inaudible) for the 2011-2012 school year. One of the goals in our session planning, 'What will do with regards to ensuring we have the organization tight from top to bottom. The other goal was to make sure that our superintendent evaluation was one where we could make sure we were doing what we need to do to have a valid evaluation of our superintendent. We also were looking at all of our goals, and as such, we know that our superintendent, December 2012 ends our superintendent's contract. We have to decide whether or not we were going to extend the contract, and he also had to decide whether or not he wanted the contract extended. As the board met, we met in one of our development workshops, we talked about it, we thought that one of the things we wanted to do was get some transformational leadership. We know where we want our district to go, with regards to being a world class (inaudible) and...the last few years we've really been...
Burney: We thought it would be good if we brought some fresh new eyes into the district. We knew the superintendent had been with us for quite some time. After a certain time in an urban district, you kind of get the wear and tear.
Burney: We decided that it was time for us to make a change and that's what led up to us deciding not to renew the contract but instead to start now so that we could search for the new superintendent.
Channel 4: I think it's easy to say you weren't happy or you wouldn't have made the change. You weren't happy with the performance. What was it about what Ed Pratt-Dannals had done, or didn't do that you weren't happy with?
(After bad interference in phone call)
Burney: A lot of parents seem to believe that there are only two or three schools that they can send their children to get a high quality education. But that is simply not the case, and we wanted to make sure everything was systemic so that neighborhood schools, magnet schools, career academies, all of them were providing the type of education we want for all of our children. So it's not that we were unhappy. It's just that we know we can get a lot more.
Channel 4: So is it a perception thing? I know you've been dealt a bad hand from the state and just the economy overall. So a lot of the financial problems weren't necessarily the districts fault, was they any kind of "management" issue that you weren't happy with? Or is this just purely a perception thing?
Burney: I shouldn't say perception. That may have been not the word that I want. We want systemic.
Channel 4: What does that mean?
(Bad interference, we pause the interview and talk about the third party in the phone call.)
Burney: Systemic for us means it is throughout the system. That excellence is throughout the system, from top to bottom, that all schools have the same level of excellence. That's what systemic means to us. That from year to year, whatever it is we have our plans and procedures and our methodology and all of those things transfer from the top straight down to the bottom.
Channel 4: I want to ask you about the discovery of this 100 million dollars. It was described as a reserve fund?
Burney: Yeah, and...
Channel 4: Did you know about it? Did the board? It seems--when we talked to W.C. Gentry yesterday, last night, he alluded that he didn't know about it.
Burney: Okay, let me go back because I really want this clarified, if you could really do us a favor to clarify. We don't know exactly what the amount is. The reason I say we don't really know what the amount is because we have our auditor. The board has an auditor that we employ. I asked our auditor to take a good look at our finances from top to bottom just to see, because we made some drastic cuts last year, just to see if there was anywhere, anywhere that we could find some money that might be able to help.
When our auditor took a look, she had some questions. Those questions have yet to be answered with our auditor and with the school district. We're going to find out if what she found is correct. We won't know that until March 13th. Actually, when the paper printed that 100-million, the reason that many of us were saying, 'Can you please wait to print that?' is because we want to make sure. You know, we don't want to make parents unnecessarily or anyone else unnecessarily thinking there is money if there's not.
Jason: But that's the number they came up with? That's the number the first auditor came up with?