BY BUDDY NEVINS
The outlines of the plan for a huge School Board bond issue paid for with a tax increase are taking shape…out of the Sunshine.
That’s no surprise since the campaign Superintendent Robert Runcie is planning for a bond referendum would be largely out of the Sunshine, too.
This is according to several well-placed sources, at least two who talked with Runcie.
“I’m supposed to be doing this as Superintendent — plan for the future,” Runcie says. “It would be irresponsible for me not to have started this conversation.”
Runcie says that Broward’s “capital program is in such bad shape that our money (predicted from Tallahassee and other sources) goes negative after next year. Something has to be done.”
The School Board will discuss the capital budget next Tuesday.
The idea is to plug this hole with bonds.
The business community (i.e., builders, lobbyists and others doing business with the Board who stand to make money from more construction.) would pay for the campaign to sell the bond issue to the public, which must approve it in a referendum. A business-funded political committee would be a chief fund raising and campaign arm, allowing the campaign to enjoy looser financial reporting requirements and hold meetings outside of the Sunshine Law.
Runcie has already touched base with so-called opinion leaders – activists, business community leaders and city officials.
City officials are being wooed with promises of revamped schools and new schools in their communities.
One of the referendum promises: Improved technology for students.
But new technology has a shelf life of what, six months? If a bond issue was floated 15 years ago for improved technology, taxpayers would still be paying for Apple II computers.
Runcie counters this argument by saying the school system probably has no choice except bonds. He says the schools are crippled now by a lack of computers and updated technology. Some students must wait long periods to take state required tests that must be done on computers, he says.
“We have to find a way to pay for an upgrade,” the superintendent says.
The bond plan is surely coming to the ballot. When its outline will be made public is anybody’s guess.
The major question that voters will need answered before they should even consider supporting a tax increase for this bond issue: How can the public be assured that the money will be wisely spent? We only need to remember last year’s school bus snafu.
Here is another example:
Among the millions in unmet construction needs are making many schools compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. For instance, some schools still have bathrooms and classrooms that can not accommodate wheelchairs.
The ADA law was passed by Congress in 1990. How many billions has the school system spent on construction and renovations since then?
Runcie knows that for any referendum to be successful “the public has to have confidence in the Board.”
Do they have confidence in the Board yet?