Lee County Appoints New Superintendent Despite Upcoming Elections and Potential Referendum

February 2, 2022 Updated 8:44 AM ET

February 1, 2022 Updated 7:00 P.M. ET

FORT MYERS (FCV) – Tuesday, the Lee County School Board voted to hire a new superintendent despite a potential new law permitting Lee County voters to choose one. School board members are also up for reelection this November.

Dr. Christoper Bernier was chosen in a 6-1 vote to be the new superintendent. The school board member who voted against his appointment was Melissa Giovannelli, who said, “We should be listening to community, and we should be waiting,” in reference to a potential new law that would put the position up for a vote.

The other board members believe that even if Bernier were put up for an election, he would win it.

“Our appointed superintendent to put it colloquially would kick butt and get elected,” School Board Member Betsy Vaughn said.

Critics of the board point out that it makes no sense to rush a new appointment to the superintendent position if voters will potentially be able to decide. They argue that the board should be patient and leave Interim Superintendent Ken Savage in his current position until after the election so voters have a fair pick.

Those discontent with the board also point out that the next election for Lee County school board members is the 2022 midterm elections. Many believe that four of the board members are likely to be voted out.

Now that board members are making their move to appoint a new superintendent, Bernier will receive an incumbency advantage and promotion from the board, rather than leaving the field open for the voters to choose from.

The proposed bill that would put the decision to a vote is HB 497, which would trigger a referendum to allow voters to decide whether the superintendent is an appointed or elected decision. If voters approve the bill, they will be able to choose the next superintendent in the 2024 election. The new superintendent would serve a four-year term.

Parents have accused board members of being hostile and out-of-touch with the desires of parents, with many believing that the board’s latest decision is another example of eagerness to subvert desires of the parents.

Giovannelli has told FCV that she believes that the initiative will be on the ballot this November.

“This Board does not listen to the community. The proof is in the actions of how this Board’s expedited hiring process of a new superintendent has only solidified to the voters that we need an elected superintendent so that their voice can be heard,” she said.

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