BCPS’ Tangled Web of Deception

A Message From The Publisher

By Bobby R. Henry, Sr.

      The long-awaited Grand Jury report arrived, like a bad unwanted doctor’s report, just in time to make School Board members who are up for re-election shiver and one remaining on the Board heart drop.

A few weeks ago, the public received a teaser that indicated not only would some Board members be removed from the dais, but some might possibly be  indicted. The report left no surprises and did not disappoint with its salacious tone and inflammatory and descriptive language.

I have but one comment… “Oh what a tangled web you weave when first you practice to deceive?

The report examined four issues: whether refusal or failure to follow mandates resulted in unnecessary and avoidable safety risks to students across the state; whether public entities committed or continue to commit fraud and deceit by accepting State funds for safety measures while knowingly failing to act; whether School officials committed fraud and deceit by mismanaging and diverting funds from bond dollars earmarked specifically for safety initiatives and whether school officials violated state laws by systemically underreporting incidence of criminal activities to the Department of Education.

While this report focused on all 67 school districts in the state of Florida, Broward County Public Schools took the brunt of the beating in this report. The report did not mince words at all, and the tone was anything but cordial. The Grand Jury examined over 150 witnesses and reviewed over 150 exhibits.

The Broward schools’ SMART program, in which the district went to the public in order to secure $800 million in funds to support mostly construction and renovations of its schools, was criticized heavily. The Grand Jury cites that district leadership, Superintendent Robert Runcie and Board Members were given an opportunity to explain their decisions regarding this program;however, their explanations were unpersuasive. The report characterizes school district staff, Super Runcie and Board Members as deceitful and committing malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty and being incompetent in their mismanagement of the SMART program. Specifically, they cite that the district failed to plan, failed to lead, failed to inform, and failed to account to the public for their failures.

In their failure to plan, the District did not present the taxpayers with an accurate picture of the scope and cost of many of the construction projects it claimed to be able to accomplish. For this reason, the construction projects are now long overdue, and the $800 million SMART bond project is now estimated to cost over $1.5 billion. The report specifically mentions that the cost to repair a roof was purposely underquoted at 7-8 dollars per square foot when anyone with experience, namely Board member Korn, would know that this price was way underbid. But the Board didn’t question it in an attempt to rush the Bond through, knowing it could not get the work done at that price.

The report claims that the Board also failed to lead appropriately when it neglected to put the amount of employees in place to inform and guide project managers, architects, engineers, and contractors necessary to complete the massive number of construction projects. While it was a massive undertaking, the Grand Jury was clear that this is not normal. It is not unusual for an organization of this size to perform successfully. The Grand Jury cited other large school districts that were able to implement a project of this magnitude without the problems incurred in Broward.

Probably the most egregious as it relates to the public, Broward failed to inform the community of what was happening and took steps to keep the public from receiving potentially damaging information about what was going on with the project. In fact, Board members are accused of outright lying to the public.

Lastly, the Board is also cited for its failure to account for major issues in the program for years.

After 122 pages of which 70 percent focused on Broward, the Grand Jury recommended the removal of five Board members: Board Chair, Laurie Rich Levinson; Patti Good, Ann Murray (Murray is not running for re-election), Dr. Rosalind Osgood (Osgood resigned from the Board and was elected to the Florida Senate), Donna Korn (Korn is currently up for re-election for her county wide seat).

The Grand Jury applauded that Board members Nora Rupert and Lori Alhadeff, citing their efforts to challenge district staff, Superintendent Robert Runcie and Board Attorney Barbara Myrick. Runcie and Myrick were both charged and arrested for allegedly lying to the Grand Jury during the proceedings. Two other Board members, Debbie Hixson and Sarah Leonardi, are not blamed in the report either because their election to the Board is less likely than two years, which is too little time to have been a part of the alleged corruption.

Board Chair Levinson was outspoken calling the Grand Jury indictment a witch hunt and blamed Governor Desantis for intentionally releasing the report leading up to the August election in an effort to sway voters from re-electing incumbents and to get a negative result on the Referendum. She also did what this Board is infamous for doing… she blamed district staff. She threw them right under the bus commenting that the Board simply acted on what was told to them by district staff.

Hixson also interviewed with the media, and she walked a more careful line. She was baited to throw her current Board colleagues under the bus, but she declined and simply kept to her prewritten notes that she found some of the claims from the report troubling and she wants to work to make sure things get better. Hixson should really let the past be her guide as it relates to Board interference where it should not be. Fusco seems to live in Hixson’s ear with school administration and teacher issues, and Hixson, whose husband was killed during the Majorie Stoneman Douglas shooting, surprisingly advocated for administrators who were facing discipline for failing to follow district direction for student behavioral threat assessments.

But the most interesting public response to the Grand Jury report came from Raymond Adderly. Adderly is running against Korn for the School Board countywide seat. After the Grand Jury report was released, Adderly immediately held a press conference on the Kathleen C. Wright Administration Center steps and called for Korn to suspend her campaign immediately in the wake of the allegations.

Throughout the 122-page report you will fine sections that have been redacted. The hidden details are removed because of possible crime charges being considered against specific board members for misfeasance and malfeasance. The Westside Gazette will keep you informed.

About Carma Henry 21625 Articles
Carma Lynn Henry Westside Gazette Newspaper 545 N.W. 7th Terrace, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33311 Office: (954) 525-1489 Fax: (954) 525-1861

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