New School Super’s First Fumble: Hiring a High-Paid Spokesman



New School Superintendent Robert Runcie has made his first mistake in less than three months: He wants to hire a $96,977 to $148,082-a-year public relations administrator.

Appointed in September, Runcie told the Sun-Sentinel that the new PR exec he wants to hire would reshape the school system’s image.

It smells suspiciously like he wants to use spin to obfuscate what is really going on in the system. It sounds to me like he and the Board wants to hide behind a high-paid flunky.

There is a reason that PR folks are called “flaks”.  Flak is the repeated blasts from anti-aircraft guns.  PR folks earned that nickname because they are viewed as being at war with the media, the public and the truth.

Mr. Runcie, you will never paper over the problems in the schools with press releases. The trouble starts in Crystal Palace headquarters of the system, where the answer is always to throw tax money at problems and hire another bureaucrat.

How many teachers would an extra $96,977 to $148,082 keep on the payroll? How many new books could be purchased?

Is it too much to ask that someone in the KC Wright Building think out of the box? Why not privatize the public relations functions of the school system?

I’m sure there are dozens of firms ready to bid on a contract.  Why put another person with benefits on the payroll?  And it won’t end with the administrator.  I’ve never seen a top school administrator who doesn’t have at least one assistant administrator and one or two secretaries.

Runcie, who was hired from the Chicago schools, is suddenly coming off as another big-city bureaucrat whose aim is to build a bigger bureaucracy.

I’ve got nothing against PR.  My father owned a PR firm his whole life.  I worked on national PR accounts in my early days. PR is necessary on occasion, just not for the school system now.

Hey, here’s an idea:  If the Board and Runcie wants to explain the good things the school system is doing, get out in the community and tell parents.  Talk to taxpayers.  Don’t talk through somebody else.

The school system doesn’t need more administrators.  It needs fewer.


The Sun-Sentinel’s story is here.

Memo to Sun-Sentinel’s new Editor Howard Saltz: Could you hire somebody who can operate a video camera?  The subject of too many of your web interviews appear in the shadows like they are in the witness protection program.

30 Responses to “New School Super’s First Fumble: Hiring a High-Paid Spokesman”

  1. Time For A Change? says:

    I was hoping he was the real deal. One bit of bad judgement does not make a bad administrator though. Let’s hope he makes better decisions on other issues.

  2. Dorothy Tee says:

    And what is this person (s) doing?

    The Public Relations & Governmental Affairs Department is responsible for the majority of the District’s internal and external communications and is the liaison between the school district and the news media.

    From media releases to newsletters to the District’s Internet Web site to press conferences, the Public Relations & Governmental Affairs Department continually looks for ways to share information with the community.

  3. Mary J. Thompson says:

    Surely, Mr. Runcie will change his mind. Just think how many teachers and could be hired with that amount of money. We need taxpayer’s dollars for education to be spent for education, not to hire a high class mouthpiece for Mr. Runcie!

  4. Sunrise Parent says:

    Runcie must be kidding. We are having cuts throughout the school. Little art. Little music. My son’s teacher must buy some of her own supplies. He wants to hire a PR consultant. What planet is he living on?

  5. Let the Positive Out says:

    We hear so much negative about the district. But we know there is greatness in our schools. Great teachers. Great principals. They believe. To suggest all he has to do is hop in his electric car and go talk to parents to tell the story is absurd.

    He must change the message, change the brand, and fight back against those bent on trying to marginalize public education.

    Give him some slack. Let him eliminate some middle management. Let him give some freedom to principals and teachers. Let him compete with the charter schools who package a message which is more often than not untruthful. Give him the chance to tell the story of great kids doing great things with the help of great teachers.

    Make no mistake, there is a battle between public schools and Tallahassee. They want to eliminate public education. They want to give it all to the private markets without restriction. They have hired professional firms.

    I give him credit for fighting back, refusing to sit back and let those private companies steal public dollars, and trying to tell the story about the greatness that does exist.

    Take the money being spent on this position from another wasted middle management do nothing position. Then, develop a message and a brand to tell the story of what is possible, what is happening for some great students and teachers, and stop believing that because it is public education it must be lesser education.

    For now, I am willing to give him the slack to make a decision. Let’s hope it is the right one.

  6. NoseBleedSeats says:

    Get over yourselves, Runcie’s only mistake was coming to this cowtown we call Broward. Poor guy makes less than many of our downtown lawyers’ year end bonuses. How many teachers could he hire? 1 1/2 would be the correct answer. We need to pay the teachers more, but that’s a community issue because to pay them more requires us all to pay higher taxes. That’s a committment, puttin our money where our mouthes are, not likely in Broward.

  7. Hammerhead_Giordano says:


    If you want to see waste of tax money you should look at BTU-TSP contract. There is clause called “bumping” because of this clause you can not get rid of unproductive half educated people at the school board. I for example, was a supervisor of maintenance at pay grade 25 and was making $75K in 2010. I was canned because I was good for nothing. Then I bumped a competent
    CAD operator at Pay grade 18 by using forged resume and with the help from my buddy Pat Santeramo.

    Still I kept my same salary for a whole year. I did not do anything but watched porn on my computer.

    What a waste!!! because of the incompetent staff at the School Board TSP was able to get a contract like the one I enjoyed.

    Buddy if you are serious about the kids education, about tax money waste. Please do not go any where but focus on this bad TSP contract and run stories on this

  8. Mr.G says:

    Do not forget all the Career, Business, Computer and vocational education programs and teachers that have been cut over the past few years.

    This guy is falling right into the trap of the rest of the useless administrators!

  9. ChicagoPlan says:

    Runcie is from Chicago. Chicago is closing schools that repeatedly underperformed, including some historic schools. The students are being transferred to nearby schools. Runcie should be concentrating on that rather than polishing his image.
    Instead he is obsessing like other career educators on winning national awards. National awards don’t educate our children and focusijng on them wastes money and attention.

  10. Let the Positive Out says:

    Come on. Already giving the guy an “F” for a single decision involving single position without knowing what else he has planned?

    There is no doubt the perception of failure in public schools exceeds the reality of performance in many areas. This is not to say it can not be better. But, we never hear of the positive. I think the kids and teachers deserve to hear of the truly postive things going on, and the performance successes (without ignoring the matters we must improve).

    It is not window dressing. He is fighting back against the charter INDUSTRY that has no problem falsely marketing to parents “charter is better without exception.” Dont kid yourself, the charter INDUSTRY’s goal is to take as much public money for private enterprise education irrespective of whether or not there is success. Those bent on further marginalizing public education have massive marketing and lobbying machines. When 4 out of 5 charter schools are failing, yet the perception by parents is that charter schools are better simply because of the label, there is a perception gap that he must attack. Otherwise, there will continue to be a flight of bright students from public schools based upon the fraud that all charters are better than public education. That simply isnt true but if you took a survey, influenced by those who have marketed “choice” and anecdotes of success, I bet the survey skews in favor of charter irrespective of reality. The charter INDUSTRY is hard at work this morning trying to influence decisions. Public Education should fight back, to be better, to compete to show public education can and does work.

    Dont overstate the impact of this proposal. This will not be the decision that defines his tenure, unless he is not considering all the other issues raised, like addressing area offices that may be bloated, or capital failures, or achieving quality concessions from the union while improving the state of the classroom for teachers or saving programs like the arts and PhysEd and career programs.

    National awards and awards for schools and teachers do not themselves educate. However, awards do impact the quality of teachers who want to educate, the quality of students who want to go to school, and the hope that all students deserve to be given that there is greatness in our schools. Awards do inspire to achieve better, but they are not the measure of success nor does this decision suggest a transformation of how to educate. Give him a chance.

  11. Cause_not_Symptom says:


    The money they want to pay this person will surely come close to the top number in the scale. Worse, that money could have been part of what it would take for the Broward IG to provide some much needed oversight. At the same time they are hiring a PR person and giving other ineffective staff raises, they are crying poverty to fund the IG’s work over them. Runcie is as useless as tits on a boar! Nan Rich should look in the mirror too.

    You are sure right about Runcie’s mission to say that everything is rosie – through a high paid PR guy. What ever happened to transparency? Now we need a filter of a PR person to spoon feed us the lies? Enough already!

  12. 10th Floor Watch says:

    Runcie has already complained to the Board members that the audit committee and the auditors hurt their image by exposing things that best be left to the superintendent to deal with quietly. He will advise Board members to appoint tame rubber stamps to the auditors committee and will lean on the Board auditors.

  13. Floridan says:

    This is nothing more than rabble rousing. In any large organization someone needs to be tasked with being the official spokesperson. That person is usually on the management team and has access to the various departments to gather and verify facts. Often he or she manages such functions as publications and digital communication (website, etc).

    And what is the alternative? Let every one of the almost 40,000 employees speak for the district?

    As to your suggestion that the School Board privitize the function, exactly how much do you think that would cost? Of course you could have called around and seen what a ballpark market price might be, but that would have been a lot of work.

    From some of the comments already posted I can see that this attracts the torches-and-pitchforks crowd, but then they never object to dumbing down an issue (or a non-issue).


    You call them the “torches-and-pitchforks crowd.” I call them taxpayers.

    The 40,000 employees do speak for the district. There is nobody who impacts a parent taxpayer more than their child’s teacher and nobody they listen to more about the direction of the system. All the spokesperson in the world aren’t going to change that.

    You ask, what is the alternative of 40,000 speaking for the district? Maybe Runcie and the Board should speak for it, rather than hire a gatekeeper.

    Just who is this spokesperson going to speak to? No decent reporter will put up with having a gatekeeper comment for the Board and Runcie. This is not the White House we are talking about, but the Broward School System. If a reporter I hired repeatedly came back with quotes from a spokesperson rather than the superintendent or Board, they would be out the door. And repeated refusals to talk would become another story in itself: Runcie won’t talk!

    If the spokesperson’s job is to draft and oversee publications (I smell a bigger staff!), this is exactly the kind of function that could be outsourced. There are dozens of firms that specialize in writing, laying out, printing and distributing all manner of publications. As for the cost, we won’t know because they aren’t considering it.

    One of the major problems of the school administration is its isolation and condescending attitude towards taxpayers, particularly parents. When I was at the Sun-Sentinel the complaint I got the most about the schools was the demeaning way they were treated by KCWright administrators and the Board members.

    Too many administrators and Board members have a bunker mentality. They are wedded in the belief they know what’s best for Johnny and Jane, although most haven’t been in a classroom in years…if at all (Runcie??).

    They resent anyone telling them what is best for the system. Unlike successful private businesses, the higher-ups have contempt for the school’s customers — parents and taxpayers. Witness the education establishment’s resistance to charter schools, which parents demanded. Tens of thousands of Broward parents approve of the charters by sending their kids to one. But some of the Board and top administrators remain cool to them.

    This spokesperson just is more top-down management–we’ll tell you what we want you to know.

    And the timing of this hire shows an amazing lack of sensitivity to our current economic turmoil. Anybody with any political sense realizes that you don’t make a high-paid mouthpiece your first most highly visible hire. It is just plain stupid politically. And after all, the school system is a political body.

  14. Real Deal says:

    I don’t agree. Under any circumstance every organization has the responsibility for trying to communicate their message, particularly so in the propaganda driven world of today’s press. As to the salary, you get what you pay for in life. I find it amazing that people say there isn’t enough work or that salaries out there are too low but complain when a job opens that seeks somebody really qualified at a good salary. It would be different if a hire is made based on lack of competence. Further, for you out there with the “Hey, I’m a taxpayer and am funding this job” routine here’s some news for you. You fund every job whether in the private or public sector. We pay taxes (a form of purchase) in return for government service we get. But we pay for goods and services that we get and that cost includes salaries. So there really isn’t much of a difference except with government there’s a bunch more disclosure. Not so with businesses. We pay in either case so widen your view of that please because it just makes the conversation dumber when suggestions to the contrary are made. It’s specious actually to make that argument.


    You wrote: “As to the salary, you get what you pay for in life.” I guess that means teachers — some make less than a plumber or a delivery truck driver — are adequately paid.

    There is plenty different between government and private businesses. The goal of a business is to make a profit. The goal of the school system should be to educate the next generation, our children.

    Just how will hiring a high-paid spokesperson help achieve the school system’s objective — to provide the best education possible? If fact, just what does a high-paid spokesperson have to do with education at all?

  15. Cause_not_Symptom says:

    @Real Deal and Floridan,

    You are quite clearly part of the power broker team or their henchmen. To get behind the notion that a spokesperson is needed – period – is nuts. As Buddy stated, the board and the superintendent should be the spokespersons, as their jobs are being evaluated with every issue they take on. To have a mouthpiece to soften the language and to downgrade the importance of costly mistakes and mismanagement is only to insult the taxpayers who expect quality education for their children. Let’s not forget about us who have already put our kids through public schools and are now just watching our money (taxes) fly around like a canary in a coal mine. We all know what a gamble that is.

    Do us a favor and be more cautious with your comparisons to the private sector and taxpayer financed organizations. You have insulted me and I’m sure I am not alone on this one.

  16. Real Deal says:

    Teachers are paid terribly. No argument there, but would you please stick to the point. The goals between the sectors is different, yet the financing remains the same. We the consumers or taxpayers pay. How will a spokes person help? Are you kidding? If all that a PR person did in that building was remind decision makers about their headline exposure, instead of allowing them to feast on the same bowl of stupidity that has fed them to date, this alone would have offered benefit many times beyond the value of that salary. Buddy? What are you talking about? Plus, I think the school district has the right to tell their story, don’t you? In fact, why don’t you apply? You’d be a natural at it.

  17. Wayne Arnold says:

    I think that if Mr. Runcie had a re-do on this decision he would not have done it. This is just one of the many things about the school board and past administrations that upsets taxpayers. Mr. Superintendent, if a person has not been picked already now would be the time to admit a mistake and withdraw this idea. Now, that would be good public relations.

  18. Smart Move says:

    This is a small minded and nearly retarded discussion. No manager ever entrusted to run a reasonably large sized operation would agree that the neysayers are making a point worth pursuit. It’s kind of shocking actually to read such unworthy commentary.

    When you hire a CEO, you entrust them to get results within budget through the use of legal, ethical and moral means. My interest is in his work product. Not his methods and all of you questioning that are focused on the wrong thing. Snap out of it.

  19. Jack Shifrel says:

    I have many years of experience in Public Relations & Marketing, & I served as an elected member of the school board a very long time ago. I’m still active today, serving on commttees, including the Advisory Committee at my grandson’s elementary school, where I recently pitched in & donated some paint for a mural in the cafeteria. I believe I have a pretty good perspective on the subject of the public perception of our public school system.

    I have been complaining to superintendents & school board members for years about the failure of the system to fully inform the community about the good things happening at the Broward County School Board. The answer I usually get is that they announce most of these accomplishments at board meetings & send out press releases, but the media doesn’t pick them up. When I ask reporters about this, they say they report what they & their editors determine to be news.

    I wonder how many people know that just in the past couple of weeks, the Nova High School Debate Team won first place at Yale University in a national high school debate tournament? Was it announced at a school board meeting? Did a press release go out? Did the media pick it up. Just a few years ago, Broward was determined to have the best Art program of any school system in the country. How many people here know that? I could go on with other examples of excellence right here in Broward, but the point is that the school system needs to do more to inform the community, and so does the press.

    Is a highly paid PR person the answer? I don’t think so. There are plenty of well educated, ambitious PR & Marketing people who would love to add the school board to their list of pro bono clients. In these tough economic times there are some good people in this field who could use the work. If they do a good job, that’s a great way to buld a resume. Non-Profits use people like that all the time & it not only can work, it can save one heck of a lot of money. They could use interns to uncover and report the good news to the Superintendent & he could assign a pro-bono PR or Marketing person/firm to follow up & send out a report &/or pre-approved press release. Mr. Runcie can announce the project at a couple of school board meetings & meet with editors of local news outlets to make them directly aware.

    There are good things happening in Broward County Schools. And, by the way, that includes Charter Schools, which, for those who don’t seem to know, are part of the Broward County public school system. It’s about time good things such as these are reported more thoroughly. That is one important way to turn around much of the negative public percepion. It’s certainly worth trying before committing well over $100,000 in salary & benefits to a position guaranteed to increase public criticism.


    The truth is that the newspapers have cut back coverage so much that there is very little space for anything. The Nova High debate team might make a community newspaper, but frankly that team is a top contender every year so its not as dramatic.

    I’ve heard for years the bleating of government officials that the media never covers “positive” news. Editors used to have a listen he would roll out, proving the Sun-Sentinel actually printed more inches of “positive” news than negative news. That positive news, however, was usually not headlined across the front page!

    Newspapers, television and now websites will always lead with what government’s perceive as negative. Exposing wrongdoing and missteps are an important part of the media’s job. Surveys have shown that people like the watchdog function of the media.

    Frankly, the school system is suppose to do a good job educating our children. So it isn’t news that they are doing that job. Still, things have gotten so bad that when schools are “A” rated, it does make the front page.

    I would argue that when the school system cleans up its act, there will be nothing negative to report.

  20. City Activist Robert Walsh says:

    I agree w/ the new Super yes postively they need a public Info spokesperson ALL DAy. Are you kidding me? I recently made a request ,it took this woman Ms.Bell- mind you almost 3 weeks to get me the info I wanted. Then reported to her Supervisor that I was bullying her. Cheap shot call anyone you want. You are another one that should be shown the door. I mean for a resident the taxpayer mind you to have to put up w/ such BS-is just absurd. Quit lady , quit, cause I am not puting up w/ your incompatance. Run to theGovenor. Lastly please w/out a secound look -hire the PIO-and get rid of the extra garbage floating around would actually save you money Mr.Runcie.

  21. Smart Move says:

    I reject the notion that “newspapers have limited space” as a dead end answer to the question of how to communicate value about an organization to their customers. A strong manager would find a way to do it anyway. That is the PR person’s challenge.

    Newspapers following their surveys instead of writing the news have their business to conduct. Just because they make a choice doesn’t mean that the choices of others should remain limited. The schools must have direct and on-going conversation with those that matter most to them. Parents and students. They should not be limited in that discourse by what the newspapers choose or don’t choose to print.

    The schools have their own TV station. Their own email capacity, robo calls, newsletters, and the ability to send flyers home to parents. They have their own PTA’s their own area meetings. PR figures out how to send message but it also helps bring message back to operations so they become less cumbersome, more liked, more consumer friendly.

    PR can improve customer service and customer satisfaction. They should do their own surveys of parent and student and teacher/staff satisfaction. That is what a well structured PR program does.

    But frankly I do not care whether Mr. Runcie does this or not. That’s his business. Our responsibility is not to question his methods but his outcomes. So long as he delivers legally within budget what he does with that money is up to him and we should not interfere unless he fails to produce a world class result. That is the accountability point. Performance not means.

    You folks in the cheap seats have an awful lot to say for people with no skin in the game. Let the man do his job. It reminds me of those country pumkin dads in that movie Hoosiers, trying to tell the coach who to play and how to run the team. Let the man coach his team in his own way. You just watch the game and keep your eye on the score. That’s about as much mischief as you can be entrusted with anyway. In the end, we all might just learn something new.


    The problem is that the “folks in the cheap seats” — typical demeaning talk from a defender of the bureaucracy — are footing an ever-increasing bill for ever-decreasing results in the schools.

    I paid thousands in property taxes last month for just the school system. I am not alone. I don’t consider that as being in the “cheap seats”.

    In addition, I spent my entire life in either PR or in the news media. I believe I know something about communicating.

    As you wrote, the school system currently uses many ways to communicate with parents and the public. You believe that the individual schools and the PTA should be told what to say and how to say it? That sounds like Cuba or Iran.

    What happens if an individual PTA goes off message? Will Runcie punish them? Now that would be a good story.

    Again, privatization should have at least been considered. Get some ideas from the commercial world of marketing, rather than the world of the education bureaucracy.

    By the way, if you haven’t noticed the cut in the space devoted to news in newspapers and the time devoted to local news on television, you are both blind and deaf. Its a fact. The Internet websites –like this one and many others — have only filled part of the gap.

    My bottom line: Runcie’s idea was politically lame and a waste. We just have to agree to disagree.

  22. chris robert says:

    see are video for you called
    ( GM Handicap kids ) on
    call debbie wesserman shultz for
    detail or autonation

  23. Joe King says:

    I would have greater respect for Buddy about saving the district funding if it wasn’t for his fervent support of the second biggest joke in the district, the Nova schools. These sites need to be looked for what they actually accomplish. They need an honest cost return appraisal. The transportation alone is outrageous, the fact that it houses children and family of people with connects, such as Buddy, is the only thing assuring its being untouched.

    I have no connection with the Nova schools. My wife once taught in Nova High and Nova Eisenhower long ago. She is retired.

  24. No, Buddy says:

    Newspapers that do not report the news fully and accurately is what goes on in Cuba and Iran. The press in this country is given very special privileges under the law in return for doing the job of informing the public fully and accurately. They have breached that responsibility by failing to produce sufficient and accurate news. This causes “bureacracies” to do for themselves.

    It is the job of any bureaucracy to operate better and more cost effectively. Micro-management by non-experts and corruption is what is wrong with our school system today. I am prepared to allow this new team of managers to take that system very different direction.

    I will not be cheap and double guess their every move but I will hold them to account for results. Let them choose the methods. Results is the only thing I care about. High level results. At a reasonable cost to taxpayers.

    It is not a job worth having where accountability without authority is the standard. Communications is not the sole turf of the press especially not when they refuse to do their job.

  25. Soccer Mom says:

    They cancelled my child’s art class and now they are spending this money. What a waste!

  26. Disagree says:

    Usually I tend to agree with your opinions, but not in this case. The right person in the PR position can create a lot good. To keep my post short and simple, what is the background of Miami-Dade’s current superintendent?

    Runcie was hired to do a job that he cannot do alone. Let him pick the management structure and the people he feels will accomplish his goals and overall success for Broward schools.

  27. Floridan says:

    @Buddy: “You call them the “torches-and-pitchforks crowd.” I call them taxpayers.”

    Paying taxes doesn’t make one’s ill-conceived pronouncements worth following.

  28. Jacked Up says:

    Let the man pick his team and if he fails then fire him. Could he do much worse than Notter and Till? This money is chump change in a $2.5 Billion dollar budget. It won’t save a teacher…let the man lead and if he can’t fire him, but let’s all get out of his way and pray he succeeds for our children.

  29. So Done says:

    Runcie had the right person in the finals, the former spokesperson phased out in Spring 2009 due to reorg and merging of depts, pushed by the illustrious Stephanie Kraft! Runcie was not at the final interviews due to family emergency so only saw videotapes of the final interviews. As of yesterday, he decided he wants to get more candidates and has readvertised the job.

    This is so ridiculous! Who wants to go back through the hoops now? This is Broward’s loss.

    I don’t know who is advising Runcie, but this was a chance for a previous wrong to be redressed. Good luck BCPS! You know what happened the last time you broadened the field of candidates: you got USELESS Eddie Arnold, who plagiarized the district’s communications plan and forgot to take out the original district’s acronyms!

  30. triptrey says:

    I don’t get it.
    I am the President and CEO of an organization that pays me almost twice what Runcie gets paid. My JOB is to be that spokesperson. That’s one of the key reason I was hired over someone who wants to “hire” someone to do that job. I understand the implied concept from Runcie to message correctly. But at the salaries we pay government administrative personnel, from taxpayers (and I ‘m one of them), it is ludicrous to think that someone should speak on his behalf.