POLK COUNTY – For those who have something to say in reference to Polk County Public Schools Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd unexpectedly announcing her retirement on May 19, a public input meeting has been scheduled for June 30 at 5 p.m. to allow members of the public to voice their opinion.
It has yet to be determined whether that meeting will be remote, in-person or a hybrid of the two.
During a work session June 4, Polk County School Board member Lisa Miller said several emails have already been received demanding that the board reject Byrd's retirement letter and halt the search for a new superintendent. Miller questioned whether that was legal.
Polk County Public Schools Attorney Wes Bridges told the board that it would not be legal to compel Byrd to continue working in her current role but that it would be perfectly legal to schedule a meeting during which time people could express their desire for her to stay.
Byrd announced her retirement May 19, in part, due to conflict with some members from the board.
“Some board members have either acted or attempted to act in ways that materially blur the respective roles and responsibilities of the school board (policy and budget) and superintendent (operations),” Byrd wrote on May 19. “Moreover, the willful and increasing overreach has been unprecedented in my 32 years of experience in education, including 13 years in senior leadership positions. Such disharmony has become a major roadblock, not just to my efforts to continue building upon the accomplishments identified above, but also to the tasks with which we all have been entrusted: the education, protection, and promotion of Polk County's greatest assets — its children.”
Polk County School Board member Billy Townsend, who is up for re-election this year, has been the school board member who has been the most critical of Byrd over the past few years. On June 4, Townsend questioned whether Byrd was resigning or retiring and lobbied to begin the search for a replacement as soon as possible.
During this part of the meeting, Polk County School Board Chair Lori Cunningham said that Byrd wanted to retire at the end of the current school year but later agreed, at Cunningham's request, to remain employed as superintendent through February 2021 to give the board ample time to find a suitable replacement.
Bridges told Townsend and other board members that it didn't matter whether Byrd was retiring or resigning, that she is free to do either and cannot be legally compelled to do otherwise. Her May 19 letter referenced a retirement, not a resignation.
Deputy Superintendent John Hill seemed to tear up a bit while lobbying Byrd to change her mind about retirement.
“From a longtime employee of Polk County Schools, I think myself as well as quite a few employees along with community members have unabashedly held out hope that we can convince Mrs. Byrd to reconsider her retirement,” Hill said.
Polk County School Board member Kay Fields agreed with Hill.
“Personally I'm like Mr. Hill,” Fields said. “I wish that Mrs. Byrd would change her mind. But I cant answer that — only she can.”
Polk County School Board member Sara Beth Reynolds said she believed dozens of county residents would lobby for Byrd to stay during the June 30 meeting.
Cunningham summed up her opinion about June 30 before the meeting adjourned.
“It's an opportunity for our community to say how they feel and with Superintendent Byrd obviously in the room,” Cunningham said.