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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Broward County Schools' dysfunction junction continues to rile taxpayers, parents & pols in S.E. Broward County who want honest answers

July 13, 2010 photo by South Beach Hoosier of the Broward County Public Schools HQ in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Other than tap-dancing around the truth, what exactly is it that Broward School South Area Supt Joel Herbst is doing, and why is it that the Broward School system and the School Board remain unable to tell the truth and communicate effectively with taxpayers, parents and voters?
It just never ends with them.

First, how goes that search for a new Superintendent of Schools?
Well, according to their not-so-useful website:
Deadline for applications is August 16. The slate of semi-finalists will be presented to the Board on August 29 and finalists will be interviewed the week of September 12. The School Board is expected to make a selection at the conclusion of the process.
Or not.
Which is to say that just as I predicted here months ago, dear readers, despite having ample time to make some solid selections, they will NOT have someone in place by the time the new school year begins on August 22nd.
Maybe not even the first month of the new school year.

This inability to appreciate how this rolling-tumbleweed of a deadline looks to students, parents and taxpayers, who all have to meet deadlines, says a lot about who's running things.
And it only reminds me all over again that they need to select someone from outside of the state who has never heard of any of the sorry characters inhabiting that building.

Speaking of people who want to be Supt, or rather, who for now are publicly saying they don't want to seek it, late Monday night, a not-so-secret fact known to more than a few people hereabouts, finally came to light in a Sun-Sentinel story by Cara Fitzpatrick about some clearly unethical shenanigans that took place under Herbt's tenure as principal at South Plantation High School.

Unethical on its face, unethical when you think about it, and unethical when you get to know the facts about how long it was tolerated by people who should have known better.
Yet Herbst would have us believe he didn't know it was wrong.

Frankly, that sort of sheer stupidity is more than enough to dis-credit him for good in my book.

I wonder if Herbst mentioned this moral indiscretion of his to the FBI last year when they interviewed him about the longstanding culture of corruption in the Broward School system?


South Florida Sun-Sentinel
South Plantation High kept $200,000 a year in undisclosed fund
By Cara Fitzpatrick, Sun Sentinel
3:49 PM EDT, July 18, 2011

For at least a decade, principals at South Plantation High allowed hundreds of thousands of dollars in school funds to be diverted to an outside bank account, bypassing rules imposed by the Broward School District to safeguard its money from misuse.

In one flush year, records show more than $350,000 was in the account; in the last two years, it was $200,000 or more. The district's chief auditor, Patrick Reilly, called it a "clandestine bookkeeping operation," and said it paid for about $4,200 for Florida Marlins tickets, $4,450 for shoes and clothes for the baseball team, and $1,600 for a Back-to-School barbecue.

The school even had a $75,000 investment fund, not authorized by the district.

District auditors say it's possible other schools are using similar accounts. "We don't usually ask the question, 'Where's your other, second set of books?''' Reilly said.

The fund, which mixed some district money with fund-raising proceeds, was managed by the Parent Teacher Student Organization, a group outside the authority of district auditors. It was used for about three years by current principal David Basile, and from 2000 to 2006 by Joel Herbst, who is now an area superintendent supervising some principals.

Basile flagged the account to auditors last year after concerns were raised by the PTO president and it was later closed at Basile's request. He declined comment for this article.

Herbst said he wasn't aware the school's use of the account violated district and state policies.

"Certainly, if I was aware I would have immediately taken appropriate measures to correct the deficiency," Herbst wrote in an email to the Sun Sentinel.

Reilly, however, said principals receive ample training in how to manage school funds. Funneling money "outside" the school creates an opportunity for fraud — and makes it difficult to track, he said.

For instance, auditors can't tell who used the Florida Marlins tickets. And the $4,450 check for shoes and clothes went to a "guy in Stuart," violating district-approved vendor contracts, he said.

"Did it get to the kids? I don't know," Reilly said.

District officials aren't sure how long the practice existed. Auditors have been able to review only two complete years of records, though they say it dates back at least 10 years. Area Superintendent Desmond Blackburn put it at 19 years, according to district records.

Auditors only learned of the practice last year and have spent months trying to unravel how much money was spent and where, said Reilly.

Basile, who has been at the school about four years, told district officials he didn't realize the account was in violation of district and state policies. Herbst said it was used for "the welfare of the school" and in keeping with the philanthropic mission of the PTO.

But putting the school money in that account meant auditors could not track it. They only saw financial reports on accounts signed by the principal and school bookkeeper each month.

The PTO isn't obligated to give its records to the district. It filed financial papers as a nonprofit organization dating back to at least 2004, but those records don't clarify how the money was spent.

Auditors might not have discovered the fund at all if PTO president Kay Arnold hadn't raised concerns, prompting Basile to close it last July, Reilly said. Arnold couldn't be reached for comment, despite three phone calls.

Both Herbst and Basile have been honored by the district for excellence as principals. Herbst was named Principal of the Year during his tenure at South Plantation. Basile was a finalist for the award this year.

Neither Interim Superintendent Donnie Carter or school board members could be reached for comment, despite each receiving at least one phone call and email.

Auditors are expected to present their report to the School Board on Aug. 2.

Staff Researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report.
Reader comments at:

To start with the most obvious education-related issue, what's the deal with the new un-named principal at Hallandale High School?

I'm really starting to get the impression that the new "cooperation" that we were all promised at the June 13th forum at the HB Cultural Center, by Herbst and Co. was just, a mirage.
Poof!
Now it's gone!

That meeting was years in the making, real YEARS, not metaphorical ones, and my friend and fellow HB resident Catherine Kim Owens of the Broward Schools Diversity Committee did a GREAT job of mobilizing people in the community to attend and was fair in moderating it.
A meeting that actually ran on-time and on-schedule, that rarest of things here in HB!

A meeting which, as we all know, in someone else's hands -I won't say her name- would have easily taken 2-3 times longer.

Yet a meeting that Hollywood-based Broward School Board members Ann Murray (District 1) and Jennifer Gottlieb, (At-Large), were no-shows at, even while At-Large member Robin Bartleman of Weston could make it.
Murray & Gottlieb?
Too busy.
Schedule conflicts, don't ya know!


Above and below, two checklists re progress mediating longstanding problems at Hallandale High School, from the Power Point presentation made during the forum.
June 13th, 2011 photos by South Beach Hoosier.


South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Officials update residents on the state of three Hallandale schools
July 15, 2011
By Sergy Odiduro, Forum Publishing Group

A recent community meeting updated residents on the conditions and academic progress at three Hallandale Beach schools.

Discussion at the meeting, sponsored by the Broward School Board's Diversity Committee, the Hallandale Beach Education Advisory Committee and the Hallandale High School Task Force, centered on the high school, Gulfstream Middle and Hallandale Elementary School.

Several administrators highlighted positive aspects at their schools, including Hallandale Elementary, which pointed to its nine-year record as an A school.

"I can tell you for sure our school is headed in the right direction," said Brian Kingsley, principal at Gulfstream Middle.

Hallandale High School also touted its successes, reporting that 99 percent of its 2011 class participated in the graduation ceremony.

Despite this, lingering questions remained about the condition of the school's facilities.

A report detailing a site visit made in December revealed the observations of the diversity committee, some of whom were upset over conditions at the school.

The report, which described "prolonged years of neglect and lack of resources" at Hallandale High, included pictures of missing portions of a ceiling with exposed plumbing in the boys' locker room, frayed power cords, torn chairs on weight equipment, outdated textbooks, and noted a "a strong odor upon entering the school building."

In response to the report, the school is undergoing a series of upgrades aimed at addressing the top 20 most-needed renovations suggested by the committee.

At the meeting, South Area Superintendent Joel Herbst outlined a number of projects at the school, including new computers, textbooks and novels, a new hydraulic lift for the automotive shop, refurbished bathrooms, and a remodeled boys' locker room.

James Sparks, a member of the diversity committee who voiced concerns about the condition of the softball field, said he wants progress to continue.

"I'm not asking for anything other than what we deserve. I have seen tremendous improvements, but why did it take so long?" he asked.

The Rev. Josh Brown, who graduated from Hallandale High in 1978 and whose daughter also graduated from there, wrangled with officials at the meeting over whether irrigation or drainage was an issue in flooding near the school.

"The school opened its doors in 1977. We are talking about issues that still have not been addressed," he said.

Catherine Kim Owens, co-chairwoman of the diversity committee, said she hopes the conversation with school officials will continue and that the only way to change conditions is by more parents getting involved.

"That's one of the reasons why I joined the diversity committee," she said. "We need to get involved if we are not happy with the facilities. Unless we speak up, we are not going to get heard."

Just to give you a little more idea of how the forum went and the community's dis-satisfaction, watch this Channel Ten news video from a month ago:

Channel 10 News
Parents Upset Over State Of S. Fla. High School,
Work To Be Done To Fix Decade's Worth Of Problems
by Baron James
POSTED: Tuesday, June 14, 2011,
UPDATED: 11:28 am EDT June 14, 2011


So, is it that they have STILL not decided who it is yet, or, that they don't want, anyone to know who it is until they announce it officially this week, reportedly, Wednesday?

In some towns in this country, a new principal at an improving but still, admittedly, 'troubled' school, would be considered "news" and the local press corps would likely attend.

This part of South Florida is NOT one of those places, so if the School Board, in its infinte stupidity, is deliberately keeping us in the dark so they can have a surprise, they're only fooling themselves.
In the year 2011, nobody from the local news media will show-up at School Board HQ just to hear who the winner of their HS principal search is.

Which only gets to the dysfunctional, disconnected universe up there at Broward Schools HQ.

As I've said so many times on my blog, despite all their resources and personnel, Broward Schools and the School Board seemingly have no real sense of how to effectively communicate to parents and taxpayers in the year 2011, something made worse in our case by geography, since we are repped by the uncommunicative and invisible Ann Murray.
Just saying...

-----
Channel 10 News
Bob Norman's Blog
Superintendent Search: Joel Herbst Says He Won't Apply For Job
By Bob Norman
POSTED: Wednesday, June 22, 2011,
UPDATED: 1:28 pm EDT June 22, 2011


In case you didn't receive this article from me last week:

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