Superintendent Avossa tweets Post reports fake news, then apologizes

Updated Oct 05, 2017
On the first day of school, Superintendent Robert Avossa visits with students in Kaitlin Jackson’s third-grade class at Grassy Waters Elementary School. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

The head of the nation’s 11th-largest school district apologized for “bad judgment” in a late-night Twitter blast with a “fake news” hashtag as he took issue with reporting by The Palm Beach Post about a near tripling of district officials making more than $140,000 a year — including some he knew from previous jobs.

“Ask @pbpost for facts — not false narratives — trying to cause a problem,” Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa tweeted at 12:03 a.m. Oct. 1. “I love my staff and teachers — we are getting results — #fakenews.”

School Board member Marcia Andrews said she brought up the tweets with the third-year superintendent.

“I was very concerned about that,” Andrews said. “I expressed to him my concern it’s just not the way to behave.”

Avossa said in an interview Wednesday he quickly regretted the “fake news” part and had already taken down three posts by the time he communicated with Andrews. He said it reflected his frustration on the eve of talks with the district’s union-represented teachers, and he stood by positions underlying the tweets.

“The part that’s upsetting to me is the timing, the tone, and this idea the only people cited there that were high-paid were the individuals that I had personally brought in that I had previously worked with,” Avossa said. “It’s a lightning-rod issue that shows staff I’m somehow, you know, building up this wall around me of friends. That’s not true.”

The Post reported the number of district officials earning at least $140,000 a year has increased from nine to 26 since Avossa took office in 2015. The story noted that reflected, in part, regular annual raises and an increase in attorneys who do not report to Avossa, but reported he has created at least 16 administrative jobs paying $120,000 or more, mentioning three hires he knew from previous jobs in other school districts.

County teachers union President Justin Katz called a rise in high-paying positions away from the classroom “extremely disappointing,” arguing compensation for teachers has not kept pace. The number of teachers making more than $50,000 a year has increased 5 percent in two years. The School District is the county’s largest employer with more than 25,000 workers.

Avossa has overseen the elimination of some administrative jobs and the creation of others. He said most new supervisors overseeing principals came from within the district, and 13 of 26 officials exceeded the $140,000 mark through regular annual increases.

Minimum pay for such workers as lunch-room aides and security guards increased in his tenure; the number of schools with bad grades from the state has fallen; and a bus scheduling fiasco soon after his arrival got fixed, The Post has reported.

Not getting enough attention, in Avossa’s view, are signs of improvement such as that district-run schools graded D or F decreased from 33 to 14 during his tenure.

He said he will keep pushing for higher teacher compensation.

“I wear my heart on my sleeve,” Avossa said. “I think anybody who knows me knows that. I’m an emotional person. I care about my team. We’ve been working so hard to build an authentic relationship between staff and leadership.”

Three Avossa tweets, later deleted, employed the “fake news” hashtag. One said, “Our local paper falls for false narrative from Tallahassee — no context provided on many of the #fakenews distractions — stay focused on kids.”

Avossa said Wednesday: “The minute I sent it out I knew I had let my emotions get away from me. I have no excuse. I own it and I apologize.”

He added, “I should have fought my frustrations with facts.”

On Oct. 1, Avossa tweeted publicly: “I apologize @pbpost and @AMarraPBPost for my frustration & reaction - I defend my budgetary decisions and will continue to deliver results.”

The next day, Avossa wrote in an email to Post reporter Andrew Marra, “I used bad judgment in referring to your article as fake — I believe that additional context should have been provided but there’s no excuse that validates my reaction. I care deeply about this district and the kids we serve — I let those emotions get to me.”

This Sept. 30 tweet remains in Avossa’s public feed: “Context matters - I’m invested in @pbcsd - ready to push the status quo? Some aren’t - ask @pbpost about the well timed article to divide.”