BY BUDDY NEVINS
The Broward public schools are broke.
This isn’t hyperbole. This is fact.
To plug part of the serious shortfall in money for maintenance and capital improvements, Superintendent Robert Runcie hopes the public will approve next year a huge bond issue — $600 million has been mentioned.
But at the same time Runcie wants more money, his staff’s mismanagement continues to cost us.
This week a media report detailed how staff delays and mistakes resulted in losing a $100,000 federal solar energy grant.
Is that any way to convince a skeptical public that the school system will spend an additional $600 million wisely?
More on the grant later.
First, the problem.
Having Trouble Maintaining Property
The school system is now struggling to maintain roughly 48 million square feet of facilities. More than 12 million square feet of that space is over 30 years old.
“The public has already paid for this,” Runcie told Browardbeat.com. “We need to maintain it.”
While maintenance costs have increased over the years, the money for it has shrunk.
Blame the Florida Legislature a lot. And the School Board a little.
The money for maintenance from Tallahassee has gone from $387 million in 2007-2008 to $194 million in the current budget year. During this period the Legislature shifted some capital money into the operating expenses.
The School Board could have used more operating expenses for maintenance. They choose not to do so and it wouldn’t have closed the gap anyway.
“We had to put some $2 billion in capital projects on hold,” Runcie says.
Runcie has a long list of improvements that the school system cannot afford. They include such items as:
- Athletic and music equipment to replace items that are worn out. “We haven’t bought band equipment in five years,” Runcie says.
- New computers and other high-tech enhancements. “We have to have technology that we can integrate into our instructional process,” he says.
- Repairing roofs. The system has $10 million to spend this year and need $60 million to fix deficient roofs.
- New buses.
- Renovating schools and offices to comply with the American with Disabilities Act. Past School Boards are at fault because when the system was flush with cash, members did little to comply with the ADA, which was passed in 1990.
- Increasing the security of schools and buying more security cameras.
- Improving indoor air quality.
Winning Public Trust
Before Runcie arrived, a statewide Grand Jury filleted the school system for waste and mismanagement in its construction projects.
Runcie has tried to solve the problem. For instance, he privatized future construction management.
More needs to be done. A dizzying array of blunders continues.
Just one foul-up was outlined in the Miami Herald this week in an article by Michael Vasquez.
The school system and the county government obtained in 2010 a $100,000 grant for solar energy at a Miramar middle school.
“Broward’s school district has repeatedly botched the project, according to county documents and those involved in the effort,” according to Vasquez.
Foot-dragging and errors by the staff, most notably the school system’s lawyers, resulted in having to turn down the grant, Vasquez wrote.
The Herald story is here.
Throwing away this $100,000 from Washington was uncovered because a public vote of the School Board was required to cancel the grant request.
How many other snafus are there that the public never hears about? How many millions continue to be wasted?
Runcie and the School Board can get all the so-called community leaders and high-priced political consultants they want to push this bond issue.
One rock-hard political truth still remains: Unless the public is convinced that waste and mismagement of tax dollars has ended, nothing will get passed.
Runcie and the Board have a long way to go before they can ask us with a straight face to pay higher taxes for new bonds.
That’s unfortunate. Because there is a real need in our schools for more money.