A highly critical grand jury report has found that the Broward County (Fla.) school system is riddled with mismanagement and corruption. In its aftermath, the superintendent of the district, the nation’s sixth largest, has decided to retire, three years before his contract was to expire.
The report amounts to a 51-page tongue lashing of the school system’s operations.
"The evidence we have been presented concerning the malfeasance, misfeasance and nonfeasance of the Broward County School Board and of the senior management of the Broward County School District, and of the gross mismanagement and apparent ineptitude of so many individuals at so many levels is so overwhelming that we cannot imagine any level of incompetence that would explain what we have seen," the report says.
"We have a middle management staff that tolerates or is forced to tolerate incompetence, double-dealing, corruption and laziness but which in turn is always fearful of being targeted by upper management should they challenge interference by board members or attempt to hold contractors accountable for their work."
A few weeks after the grand jury report was made public, Superintendent Jim Notter, who has led the 233,000-student district since 2006, announced his retirement at the end of the school year.
The grand jury report lambasted board members for meddling in operations and taking actions based on favoritism.
Board members "have mired themselves in the day-to-day running of the district, a task for which they are singularly unqualified," the report says. "Their lack of background or expertise does not deter them from intruding into decisions such as selecting building contractors, deciding contract methods, interfering with personnel decisions, directing contracts to friends and acquaintances for consulting work, pushing unnecessary building projects in direct opposition to the advice of district officials, lobbying for construction change orders to benefit contractors, and even things as petty as manipulating the process to get the children of friends and family into specific schools."
As a result, the report says, the district has spent billions of dollars, but schools in the eastern part of the county have thousands of empty seats, and schools in the western part of the county are over capacity.
"The current situation is a direct result of the board’s lack of vision, foresight, planning and leadership as well as a deliberate attempt to withhold information in order to keep building unnecessary space….For at least the last 15 years the district has operated a facilities and construction department with little regard for quality, accountability or fiscal responsibility."
The grand jury has recommended several changes in district operations, some of which the board addressed even before the report was made public. Since the report was released, the school board had taken additional steps to address some of the issues raised. Last month, the board approved a more stringent ethics policy for board members.
*School board members and candidates should refuse campaign contributions from contractors, vendors and others doing business with the board.
*Board members should be required to undergo ethics training by an outside agency.
*Have inspections carried out by local building departments instead of district employees.
*Reduce number of school board members to 5.
*Create an independent office of Inspector General to monitor the Board and District.
*Remove all involvement by board members in the selection of contractors, vendors or financial institutions.
*Have no official business conducted between school board members and staff, and prohibit board members from trying to influence staff regarding official business. All business should be done with the superintendent or a department manager, or personally at public school board meetings.
The grand jury report is online at www.floridasupremecourt.org/pub_info/summaries/briefs/09/09-1910/Filed_02-18-2011_Final_Report.pdf.