BY BUDDY NEVINS
The President, the Governor and School Board get four-year terms.
Roughly four dozen Florida school superintendents who are elected also serve four-year terms.
Teachers and principals get one-year contracts.
So why did School Superintendent Robert Runcie, who has had a mixed record, get five-year contract extension on top of a contract which had one year to run?
Runcie will now be here until October 2019.
“It’s a humble contract,” Board Member Pat Good told her colleagues this week.
Guaranteed employment through 2019 no matter what happens in the school system. Or taxpayers will owe him 20 weeks of salary –roughly $140,000, plus unused sick time and the unused portions of his 29 working days of annual vacation.
The contract is no surprise once you listen to Board members talk about Runcie. They believe he all-but walks on water, ignoring several highly damaging stumbles.
Board member Abby Freedman called Runcie “caring.” She praised him for having the “definition of an open door policy…He is the most transparent individual I ever met.”
Member Ann Murray said: “He has… kept the eye on the ball. When I say ‘eye on the ball,’ I mean the children.”
Runcie is “a good quarterback,” said Member Rosalind Osgood.
School Board Chair Laurie Rich Levinson read a long list of “achievements” Runcie “accomplished.” Here is some of them in typical school system gobbledygook:
“Creation of the cadre director model to provide administrative support and mentoring opportunities for our school based leaders; the development of an academics division to align the work of four critical administrative support areas…the establishment of a portfolio services division to comprehensively manage the District’s portfolio of schools and innovative programs, the innovation of new support services department like the Business Support Center; a department centrally servicing the budget and bookkeeping needs….a program management model for the management of the District’s capital construction program….”
Confused? Here is one Runcie achievement in plain language:
“The District was able to hire approximately 1,890 new teachers in 2012 (The District non-renewed over 1,400 teachers in the year prior to Superintendent Runcie’s appointment)…”
(Don’t you just love that phrase “non-renewed?”)
Of course, no mention of why the school system needed 1,800 more teachers since the enrollment has been dropping. The Sun-Sentinel reported September 11 that the “district-run schools saw a drop of 2,500” students this year, while charter schools gained 4,300.
Even Runcie admitted to the Sun-Sentinel, “That’s not the direction we want to go in.”
Also, no mention of the millions the district owes teachers for forcing them to work more hours than their contract calls for. The amount is anywhere from $20 million to $40 million. The district says it doesn’t have the money.
Or how about this one from the Sun-Sentinel in July: “School grades released Friday for elementary and middle schools in Broward and Palm Beach County showed significant decline, with the number of failing schools increasing in both districts.” (My italics and bold-faced type.)
What about the school bus snafu a year ago, when Runcie’s handpicked head of transportation’s screw-up left students at bus stops or left them waiting for buses for hours? He much did that mistake in hiring cost taxpayers?
I could continue, but why pile on?
Bottom line: When the School Board turned into an Amen Chorus for Runcie, they lost any perspective. They ignored any of his and the system’s flaws.
Do they think we don’t remember?
It gets worse. That able student of contract law, Laurie Rich Levinson, negotiated this contract. Excuse me, I forgot. Levinson does have a bachelors in economics from Brandeis.
The only other member of the contract negotiating team mentioned at the meeting was that sterling legal scholar Paul Carland II. He’s the School Board’s lawyer, a lifetime government apparatchik.
Why not hire somebody from the outside just to negotiate this contract? An independent lawyer who is not part of the education bureaucracy should have looked at the contract during negotiations.
I guess the School Board never heard of getting a second opinion.
No, School Board members were in such a rush, that they extended Runcie’s contract one year before his current contract expired and with almost no public notice. Both the teachers’ union and School Board member Nora Rupert call for a three-month delay was rejected.
The five-year extension was tacked on to the one year remaining on Runcie’s contract. He now has a contract through 2019.
That’s six years.
Six years, despite this little uncomfortable fact: Superintendents of big systems stay an average of three years.
Six years, binding future School Boards. Not just those elected in 2014. School Boards elected in 2016 and 2018 will be shackled with this contract, too.
Once again, Rupert made the most sense of any School Board member. She wanted a shorter contract and was the only vote against the five-year extension.
It is too bad the School Board doesn’t have more members like Rupert.