Mike Burke becomes permanent superintendent of Palm Beach County schools

Published: Oct. 20, 2021 at 9:56 PM EDT
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With overwhelming praise and optimism, the Palm Beach County School Board on Wednesday night unanimously approved an official contract for Mike Burke, making him the permanent superintendent of the tenth-largest school district in America.

Burke had been serving as the School District of Palm Beach County's superintendent on an interim basis since late July following the sudden resignation of former Superintendent Dr. Donald Fennoy.

In a 7-0 vote on Wednesday, school board members approved the appointment of Burke as permanent superintendent, as well as his official employment agreement with the school district.

Burke's new contract will run until June 30, 2025, and his annual salary through June 30, 2022 will be $300,000 with the opportunity to receive pay raises after that depending on his performance.

"I don't believe there's anyone in this country that's more qualified to be superintendent of this district," said School Board Chairman Frank Barbieri.

Burke has been with the School District of Palm Beach County since 1998 and most recently served as its chief financial officer, responsible for maintaining the district's staggering $4 billion budget.

During his tenure with the school district, Burke has also served as chief operating officer and budget director.

"I want customer service to be first and foremost in everything we do," Burke told WPTV after Wednesday's vote. "I think we've got room for innovation. We've had proven success with some great programs. I'd like to replicate those and just make the best use of our resources."

Barbieri praised Burke for having both the financial and academic backgrounds necessary to manage a massive district of roughly 170,000 students and 22,000 staff members.

Board members described Burke as being very involved and hands on, frequently visiting classrooms, meeting with principals and teachers, and attending a wide range of school district events.

"His commitment to roll up his sleeves and be a part of the community, a part of the classroom, to experience the job in the district, is something that we haven't seen in a very long time," said Vice Chair Karen Brill.

"I see him everywhere. I see him visiting schools," echoed School Board Member Marcia Andrews. "And he has said to me, I'm committed, Ms. Andrews, to do whatever it takes to improve student achievement."


Palm Beach County School Board approves Mike Burke as permanent superintendent

RELATED: Palm Beach County Superintendent Mike Burke becomes substitute teacher

Burke's commitment to being heavily involved in local schools was no more evident than earlier this week when he pitched in as a substitute teacher at Forest Hill Elementary School near West Palm Beach to help cover staffing shortages.

Burke — who has a background in finance — said he had the opportunity to teach fourth grade math to students.

"I was thrilled that he was actually taking it on and teaching students," said School Board Member Erica Whitfield. "To me, such a good sign of a leader. It's such an amazing sign of a servant leader, of a person who really gets into the work."

The superintendent told WPTV last week there are more than 300 teacher vacancies in the School District of Palm Beach County and substitute teachers are hard to come by because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Because of those teacher shortages, the school district's leadership team and non-instructional staff members are pitching in as substitute teachers.

"That was a great experience," Burke said at Wednesday's school board meeting. "We're gonna continue doing that. And hopefully as we staff up, it will become less necessary to redirect our personnel."

Palm Beach County Superintendent Mike Burke teaches students at Forest Hill Elementary School...
Palm Beach County Superintendent Mike Burke teaches students at Forest Hill Elementary School near West Palm Beach during the 2021/22 academic year.

Earlier this month, school board members expressed their unanimous support to keep Burke in the district's top spot permanently and not conduct an outside search for superintendent.

"I really can't overstate how fortunate we are to have a leader like Mike Burke at this moment in time," School Board Member Alexandria Ayala said Wednesday night. "He really is the right leader at the right time at the right place."


Since assuming the role in July, Burke has faced a series of difficult decisions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including mandating facial coverings for students without the ability for them to opt out.

That bold move went against a Florida Department of Health emergency rule which gives parents and guardians the final say over whether their children should be masked in school.

As a result of that violation, the Florida Department of Education is threatening to penalize the school district by withholding state funding equal to monthly school board member salaries — and potentially more — until the district comes into compliance.

"People talk about having career educators as superintendent. But you know what? We've done that for a long time. And we have outcomes that I'm not at all pleased with," said School Board Member Dr. Debra Robinson. "So if we want something different, let's do something different."

Before joining the School District of Palm Beach County more than two decades ago, Burke was a budget analyst for Broward County Public Schools.

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