“We cannot imagine any level of incompetence that would explain what we have seen..." - Florida State Grand Jury calls for abolishing Broward School Board due to rampant corruption and mismanagement.
That was the subject header for an email I sent out earlier this evening upon hearing the amazing but welcome news in an out-of-the-blue blog email from Broward Clean Sweep, http://browardcleansweep.wordpress.com/ that the FL statewide Grand Jury under Broward Judge Victor Tobin, and established by former FL governor Charlie Crist, has issued a scathing 51-page report that damns with cold-hard facts the incompetent people and corrupt culture running the Broward School system into the ground.
It levels its cannons right at current Superintendent James Notter, and explicitly calls for the abolition of the elected School Board. To which I can only add, "Huzzah! Huzzah!"
Clearly, the shoe that I and many other South Florida civic activists and bloggers -and some reporters- have been waiting for for what seems like forever has dropped.
I haven't heard the final thump yet, so the shoe is still falling at terminal velocity, and is likely to have more collisions on the way down, but it's clearly only a matter of time before familiar names in Broward County and beyond are being asked hard questions they have heretofore avoided answering publicly to anyone's satisfaction.
Soon, the public will fall back upon Sen. Howard Baker's simple but elastic question of questions during the Senate Watergate hearings: "What did they know and when did they know it?"
State report blasts Broward School Board
By Mary Ellen Klas
In a scathing report released Friday night, the Florida Grand Jury blasted the Broward County School Board for a culture of corruption and reckless spending of taxpayer money.
The board is so riddled with problems, the 51-page report begins, that if the grand jury had the power, it would recomend it be abolished.
“We cannot imagine any level of incompetence that would explain what we have seen,’’ reads a report compiled by the Grand Jury. “Therefore we are reluctantly compelled to conclude that at least some of this behavior can best be explained by corruption of our officials by contractors, vendors and their lobbyists.’’
“But for the Constitutional mandate that requires an elected School Board for each District, our first and foremost recommendation would have been to abolish the Broward County School Board altogether.”
The report also criticized Superintendent Jim Notter, saying he was not strong enough in leading the nation’s sixth largest school district.
The report concludes:
"The corruptive influence here is most often campaign contributions from individuals with a financial stake in how Board members vote. Long ago the Board should have recognized the risk that putting themselves in the center of handing out hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars would inevitably drawn attention and undue influence from moneyed interests...Only now, years later and with pressure from all sides, have they begun to take steps to resolve this and other issues.
"Unfortunately based on the history of this Board as an institution, we have no confidence in their ability to make meaningful changes and to adhere to them. The solutions we see, at least short term, are to remove as much power and influence from the Board as possible and to have an independent outside authority monitor their dealings closely.’’
The report blasts the board for "an appalling lack of both leadership and awareness. Rather than focusing on the big picture and looking to the challenges of the future, they have mired themselves in the day to day running of the District, a task for which they are singularly unqualified.’’
Among the criticisms, the report says the school board ’"seems to be more comfortable with opening unfinished schools than angering the contractors that fund their campaigns through political contributions and fundraisers."
The list of findings is extensive: incomplete and inadequate construction records, untrained inspectors, "wasteful and dubious spending on ill conceived ideas," and board members who "direct that spending towards friends, acquaintances or supporters of Board members without any accountability."
The jurors conclude with 21 recommendations, in addition to calling for an outside monitor to oversee every move until the district and its oversight board roots out corruption and gets into shape. Among them:
Refuse campaign contributions from contractors, vendors and others doing business with the Board.
Require mandatory ethics training and testing by an outside agency.
All late additions to the Board’s agenda must be discussed at a public meeting.
Add more detail to agenda items or provide a link to where more information concerning the item can be found.
Reduce the threshold on spending items on the consent agenda.
Remove retainage reductions from consent agenda.
Require recommendation of the Superintendent or the Deputy Superintendent for reduction in retainage to be in writing and under their signature.
End the influence of the Board over the Building department by turning over inspections to local building departments.
Reduce number of school board members to 5.
Place before the voters the issue of electing the Superintendent.
Create independent office of Inspector General to monitor the Board and District
Prohibit board members from being involved in the selection of contractors, vendors, or financial institutions.
No official business should be conducted between school board members and staff
All bids should be opened in public, with Auditor there to certify bids met minimums.
No decisions should be made anywhere other than a regularly scheduled board meeting.
No discussions should be had other than at Board meetings or workshops as per Sunshine Law requirements.
Prohibit gifts of any value to any Board member or District employee from anyone doing business with the District or lobbying the Board
Empower Department of Education to penalize districts that don’t file require paperwork by withholding any state funds until certificates of occupancy, inspections and other project documents are filed.
Whenever the State Grand Jury is ready to come visit Hallandale Beach and sit a spell and to hear from concerned citizens who've been paying close attention detail just what's been going on here for years under the Joy Cooper/Mike Good/Mark Antonio regime, we'll be ready and waiting.
There are dozens of people in this SE Broward County community, including yours truly, who have a mountain of facts and evidence to present to interested parties in a position to actually see that the spirit and letter of the law in this state is followed, NOT intentionally ignored. Not least of all, the state's Sunshine Laws, enshrined in the state constitution.
For years, Hallandale Beach City Hall has acted like those laws were merely suggestions!
This news about the Broward School Board finally getting their comeuppance could hardly come a day too soon for the beleaguered kids in this county, who for too long have been at the bottom of the School Board's pyramid, while lobbyists, contractors and cronies were up at the top, thanks to their $$$ and influence come election time.
Next Tuesday at 7 p.m. will be a public meeting of the Hollywood Democratic Club, featuring Broward School Board members Jennifer Gottlieb and Ann Murray, attempting to defend their dismal record of achievement.
And that was BEFORE this positive news!
The meeting will be held at the Hollywood Community Center, 1301 S. Ocean Drive, Hollywood.
Let your voice be heard.