A day after she was fired by the school board, Hillsborough County Schools superintendent Mary Ellen Elia said she has no plans to retire.
The board voted 4-3 to terminate Elia's contract, despite Elia being recently named Superintendent of the Year.
Elia has been at odds with several committee members on several issues.
"I'm looking at the next thing in my career," Elia said Wednesday. "Some people say I may be ready to retire. That’s absolutely untrue."
On Tuesday afternoon, dozens of people packed into the school board meeting. Many of those who spoke expressed support for Elia. Some teachers took issue with the idea of firing Elia, saying Elia has been a strong leader and that her firing would leave the county's teachers stranded without a leader.
The Hillsborough County School District is the eighth-largest in the country with 206,000 students and 27,000 employees.
Elia will receive a buyout, with two-plus years remaining, benefits and unused vacation time, that will total a little more than $1 million. Elia, 66, has been with the district since 1986 and superintendent since 2005.
Her last day will be March 5.
"I'm not ready to retire," Elia said. "I have a lot of work left to do to support education in this country and I plan on doing it."
The district received about 300 emails in response to Elia's termination.
“We've heard from many, many teachers and employees throughout the district,” said Jean Clements, Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association. “Suprise, even shock, is prevalent. Most people never believed this would happen. A lot of confusion. A lot of people worried."
Many of the emails were disgusted with the board's decision. One parent called it a "tremendous loss for our community."
Another wrote the decision was based on "egoism of certain members of the school board."
The subject line to one email read: "unbelievable,"... and the teacher wrote to Elia, "we are wearing black today in disagreement for the board’s decision."
Elia would not comment on ongoing personal conflicts between her and other members of the school board instead she's focused on moving on.
But it's clear certain members of the school board were ready for Elia to leave. They called it a business decision.
“This contract only benefits one person, not the taxpayers of this community," said April Griffin, school board member. "As I said earlier we will never see a contract like this based on the new laws and lessons learned from this contract.”
But anyone familiar with the school board knows certain board members didn't see eye to eye with Elia and the relationship became rocky over the years.
“I think this was one of those situations where this was about the relationship between the board and superintendent. It is what it is,” said Clements.
Here's how it will work going forward finding a new superintendent, according to Hillsborough County Schools Spokesperson Tanya Arja:
- It's all up to the school board. They could name an interim until someone is hired, or they could let Elia's responsibilities fall on her two deputy supers until someone is hired.
- They first have to decide whether they want to hire a search firm to do a nationwide search to find a new superintendent. The first time they can talk about that publicly is February 10 during a workshop.
- That workshop will include talk about superintendent evaluation tools.
- However, at that workshop, the board can only talk about adding agenda items to the next school board meeting - that's when they can actually vote and get the money approved to hire a search firm.
The last time they did a search was 10 years ago. Arja said the entire process from beginning the search to getting a superintendent in the door was six months.