to me by a very thoughtful person-in-the-know
about the dismal shape of the Broward School
system is self-explanatory, especially as it
affects students, parents and taxpayers who
live in this part of the county, I just wanted
to take a minute to raise a question:
Whatever happened to Ann Murray?
Murray was elected to the Broward County
School Board last November by voters like
me in SE Broward precisely because we
were persuaded that she was a genuine
'agent of change,' and someone whose
interest in tangible reform was real.
Murray said that she was just itching for
the opportunity to bring to bear her long,
first-hand experience within the catacombs
of the Broward School system.
Experience gained from the ground-floor
up she constantly reminded us, which
gave her an invaluable insight into knowing
not only where the bodies-were-buried,
per se, but, more importantly, where all the
taxpayer money has flown the past decade.
Murray said she knew or had a good idea
what the past mistakes were, and what
poorly thought-out strategies were to blame
for many of the chronic problems that have
long beset the system, which explains
in large part why Broward County Schools
are SO unappealing for many newly-arrived
transplants, and why some people refuse
corporate transfers to Broward County.
I have friends in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic
with really bright, thoughtful and talented kids
who fall into the latter category.
After they've come down for a visit or two,
while they've generally liked the work
accommodations and found the housing
situations semi-okay if pricey, they were
almost aghast at the second-rate school
conditions they saw that pass for normal
down here, plus the sheer apathy they
repeatedly heard about and the audacity
of a Broward school system that doesn't
want to admit that their product is, decidedly,
second-rate and falling fast.
Just ask the top real estate folks in Broward
who specialize in corporate re-locations for
middle-management types -they all know!
In fact, that was even mentioned at the recent
Hollywood City Commission hearing I attended
about the city studying the possibility of a
city-run charter school, along the lines of what
Pembroke Pines has done so successfully.
Lousy Broward schools, especially Middle
Schools, with apathetic parent-teacher groups
and dis-interested city halls, featuring frequent
media wars between teacher union officials
that citizens didn't know vs. School Board
bureaucratic log-rollers that citizens don't trust
-for good reason.
Message: Your product stinks!
In every case, after weighing what they told
me about what they saw and found,
and what I saw when i was with them,
my advice to my friends considering
elocating their families to Broward County
was that they stay put.
Stay where they were already happy.
So that was the background for me last year
when Murray showed up on the scene,
offering herself as a solution and intimated
during the campaign that she understood
that the system's so-called PR problem
was actually based on substantive
longstanding problems, which have
resulted in parental dissatisfaction
among ALL demographics and cultures
So, all that said, nine months after Murray
was elected, why does she have so little
positive tangible results to show for her
She and her supporters -many of whom
are friends of mine- argued successfully
last year that this insight and experience
of hers would enable her to begin
changing the dynamic of the chronically
un-responsive and out-of-control
School Board and school bureaucracy,
as great an argument FOR term-limits
for Board members as you could find
in South Florida, but for all the other
ones we already know of as well.
But like a large ocean-going ship,
the School system doesn't turn
on a dime, especially when there
are far too many entrenched Board
members barking orders about where
the ship ought to be making port of calls,
and what activities it ought to be offering,
based on what political supporters cum
lobbyists are whispering.
In her campaign last year against the appealing
Rick Saltrick, Murray stated repeatedly that
her background made her uniquely qualified
to stand-up for parents and taxpayers from
Southeast Broward against the entrenched
bureaucracy, and make them more responsive
to the customer.
So I voted for her.
But so far -and I've been looking far and wide
and asking questions- I've seen no concrete
examples of her actually being the effective
reformer for increased accountability on the
School Board that she said she'd be.
No instances where a battle may've been lost,
yes, but where her logical arguments carried
the day with objective observers present.
Murray's supporters claim that it's still early
yet, but since she has to stand for re-election
next year -because of the circumstances
surrounding Eleanor Sobel's LIES to the
community to serve an entire School
Board term- she is just like an interim
NFL coach who wants to keep the job
for next season.
So, when, exactly, does Pre-season end
for her and when is she going to perform
up to our expectations?
I personally believe that Ann Murray
has largely squandered her time in
office already and has left the door
wide-open for others in the community
to take advantage of her mis-steps
Not surprisingly, given what I'm writing
here, I even have a pretty good idea
of some SE Broward residents and
civic activists whom I think would
be good candidates to replace
Murray if she continues listing
to the side.
Many of you know from my previous
emails and my blog posts here that
I continually grilled Murray about
the fact that for more than six months
AFTER she was elected, this
proponent of grassroots communication
was paying so little attention to matters
that she didn't seem aware of the fact
that her email address didn't appear
on the Broward School Board's own
(Sort of like the incompetency that
passes for normal at Hallandale Beach
City Hall, no? Oui!!!)
Naturally, she was the only School
Board member in that very dubious
and embarrassing situation.
But since she was MY Board member,
and I don't find laziness or stupidity
endearing qualities, am I not allowed
to ask why it took her and her staff
MORE than six months to resolve
the very simple problem???
For months, I've been working
off-and-on on a blog post detailing
what a great disappointment I
believe Murray has been,
and that will probably be up and
posted by Labor Day.
Having received (second-hand) a copy
of an invite to a recent fundraiser she
had in Hallandale Beach, the invite
was noteworthy for the names of
supporters of hers whom many
Broward civic activists rightly feel
are part of the problems, not the
You'll see that invite in my blog
By the way, you'll notice that in
Bob Norman's truthful account
of this school system TV station
fiasco, the very bad judgment
exercised by the Broward School
Board on the TV station -which
I've previously criticized- was
From my own perspective,
it's NOT a very positive sign for
Ann Murray's political future when
she blows a very simple lay-up
Folks, pre-season has been over
It's time Ann Murray got her head
into the game and made a difference
-while she still can.
BECON homepage: http://www.becon.tv/
Meanwhile, you'll never guess who's
following BECON via Twitter, according
Notter, Gottlieb, Kraft and Dinnen.
Broward Palm Beach New Times
Broke School Board Plans $17 Million Television Studio
Maybe they can call it the "Stephanie Alma Kraft Media Center."
The Broward County School Board, which is wallowing in debt, has approved plans to build a new $17 million TV studio for BECON, its propaganda cable channel. Readers of this blog have an idea how I feel about that station, but no matter what you think of the programming, the idea to spend that kind of money on a luxury when the district doesn't even have enough money to fix school roofs and is laying off teachers in droves is ridiculous.
Read the rest of the post and the comments at:
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
SCHOOL DISTRICTS FEUD OVER COVETED CH. 19 ON COMCAST
December 9, 2008
On Monday, Palm Beach County students and families trying to access the familiar Palm Beach County education channel - known countywide simply as Ch. 19 for its location on cable - learned a lesson all right.
In the hard-ball politics of television.
The Palm Beach County schools' station was forced out of its iconic spot in the cable lineup after Broward County schools demanded a lower channel assignment from Comcast in Palm Beach County.
BECON, Broward schools' educational television, had been on Ch. 97 in our county. As of Monday, it got the coveted Ch. 19. Palm Beach schools' TV was kicked back to 97.
"It was a bitter disappointment for all of us," said Judith Garcia, station manager for The Educational Network (T.E.N.), the official name of the Palm Beach County station.
Wait, wait, wait.
Isn't school TV supposed to be above the mutt-eat-mutt confrontations of commercial TV? Isn't it supposed to be a cooperative effort?
"That was completely my understanding," said the obviously wounded Garcia.
So, what happened here? Who made this public relations nightmare of a decision to stomp all over the Palm Beach district's TV station?
"The finger pointing goes from Broward to Comcast and Comcast back to Broward," Garcia predicted.
Was she ever right.
In an e-mail response to my request for an interview, Comcast said Broward had a legal claim to a lower channel. And after Broward "chose to exercise its right and requested a lower channel number," Comcast had no option but to bump T.E.N.
Broward's demand "made it operationally necessary" to give it Ch. 19, read the statement, and T.E.N. was told in May.
That may be true. But in a follow-up letter in June, Broward Superintendent James Notter practically pleaded for Comcast to find a lower-channel alternative.
"We are cognizant that your intention to displace the [Palm Beach County] station is fraught with political repercussions for all involved," Notter astutely pointed out. "Accordingly, the School Board continues to be willing to delay the relocation of its station for a short period of time in order to give Comcast time to explore alternative solutions. I wish to make it perfectly clear, that the School Board did not seek out, nor insist on, a displacement of the [Palm Beach] station from Channel 19, and continues to be open to other possible lower channel positions."
Notter pointed out that Broward would be happy with channels 16 or 24, numbers it's had in Miami-Dade.
But Comcast didn't find an alternative.
"Comcast thoroughly researched the possibility of moving the [Broward] station to channel positions other than [Ch. 19]," wrote Marta Casas-Celaya, director of government and community affairs for Comcast. "Those positions were not viable."
Ch. 16 is WSFL, which is owned by the Tribune Co., which also owns the Sun Sentinel. Ch. 24 is Lifetime.
For their part, Broward school officials still maintain it was Comcast's decision to re-assign Ch. 19. That the district had already postponed its move for too long, and was well within its rights to finally accept the new placement.
As I pointed out to Keith Bromery, spokesman for the Broward district, nobody is questioning whether Broward can legally move into Ch. 19. It has legal priority to the lower channels.
No. The real question is whether it's right, or just, for Broward schools to take an action that would damage a neighboring district's educational broadcasting. The Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach channels have been part of a consortium that collectively works on technical issues and even produces a program together: Celebrating South Florida.
All that, Garcia said, is now in question.
"It's changed the complexion of the relationship," she said.
Take on Comcast if you like, Broward. But don't let an innocent bystander, an ally, get caught in the cross-fire.
In these days of high unemployment, economic instability and suffocatingly tight government budgets, school districts need to show they can work together to increase efficiency and keep costs down. This petty in-fighting is ugly and damaging to all.
Makes me want to say: Kids, do not attempt this at home.
These stunts can only be pulled off by highly trained adults.
Ralph De La Cruz's column appears Tuesdays and Thursdays in the Local section and in Sunday Lifestyle. He can be reached at rdelacruz@SunSentinel.com, 561-243-6522 or 954-356-4727.
Meanwhile, south of the border...
WLRN: Use stations' tools to face education challenges
Comments at a recent Miami-Dade County School Board meeting suggest that some people believe that WLRN is in the "broadcasting business." In fact, for 50 years, WLRN's only business has been education.
From 5:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and more on weekends, WLRN-TV programs Ready to Learn, the U.S. Department of Education initiative to prepare preschoolers for success when they enter school. It provides the content and skills training that helps preschool teachers and the aunts and grandmothers who care for the preschoolers of working parents get those children ready to learn. It is programming that won't sell advertising or bring in donations. If the School Board doesn't do it, no one will.
In 1976, the School Board recognized that there were thousands of adults who wanted to learn about the arts, economics, science, government and more, but whose life responsibilities would not permit attending community and adult education programs. For 30 years, WLRN-TV has been responding to that mandate, and the "entertainment" programs are scheduled to attract the audience and the donations that pay for the educational programs.
It's all about education, and that's why the proposed sale of WLRN-TV and radio to meet a school budget crisis is a bad idea.
Listen to the callers to WLRN-FM open-phone programs. They are as diverse as the Miami-Dade community and are seeking to learn about subjects that both enrich and are crucial in their daily lives. For them, wanting their citizenship decisions to be based on fact and reasoned opinion, NPR programming on WLRN-FM is the most reliably unbiased source of news and information on local radio. Then there are the programs that deal with adult and community education, responding to the arts, science and cultural needs of county residents.
It's all about education.
The future of WLRN-TV/FM has arisen as the board faces a budget shortfall that has long-term implications. Rather than conduct a fire sale, the board would do better to seek ways in which its technologies can save, extend and expand services in the face of falling revenues.
In the 1950s, when a burgeoning school population overwhelmed the county schools, that School Board turned to television, which for several years filled the gap until construction caught up with the numbers of new students. Now the technologies are becoming more pervasive and powerful, but the principle remains the same. It was an imaginative use of a technology to solve an otherwise unsolvable problem.
The new digital WLRN-TV with up to four video channels becomes available to home viewers after all TV stations go digital in 2009. Combined with the board's wireless and computer capabilities, there will be an unparalleled opportunity to deliver education to students wherever they are.
The Broward County School Board has acquired its own television channel and is developing its wireless system to expand services to students and the community. Palm Beach schools are extending their services to students using their wireless assets.
It is certainly rational to consider every alterative to minimize the pain of the current budget shortfall. But the board needs to balance short-term needs against the longer-term potential for extending, restructuring and supporting service to the learners. The board's radio, television and wireless stations now reach into every classroom and every home with a television or FM radio. More than one million homes and listeners tuned in during recent surveys.
Use imagination, competence
In the new multi-channel and digital environment, programming capacity to homes and businesses will more than double, access to classrooms will increase by 60 percent, and learners throughout Miami-Dade will have access to learning programs anytime.
It is unimaginable that, in contrast to business and industry practice, Miami-Dade's professional classroom teachers and administrators cannot find ways to use these powerful communication tools to meet and overcome the educational challenges of the future. But imagination and professional competence can play no role if to solve a short-term problem, the board disposes of assets that have long-term value.
Don MacCullough, an educational telecommunications consultant, was Miami-Dade public schools' executive director, media programs, and WLRN general manager for 30 years.