School Board’s Shame: HS’s Appalling Condition






Karen Yi can’t say it in her shocking Sun–Sentinel video on the paper’s website today. As a reporter she is not supposed to give an opinion.

I have no such restraints.

There is only one reason why Stranahan High School remains a wreck after years of promises to renovate it.

Criminal neglect.

That’s the label for failing to safeguard public resources by allowing them to deteriorate.  That’s what it is called when you force students and staff to endure Third World conditions.

Criminal neglect.

Neglect by the current School Superintendent Robert Runcie.  His staff lied in 2012 when they said the school’s heating, air conditioning and fire sprinkler system would be repaired.

Neglect by the current School Board. They have turned a blind eye to repeated complaints about the conditions at the school.

James Thomas, the school’s chief maintenance person, was interviewed by Yi. He shows Yi and the Sun-Sentinel videographer Sue Stocker a portable that is covered in mold.

“We were given a directive not to maintain the portables,” he says.

The school has no heat and a teacher is forced to keep spare clothes that the students can use to keep warm in the winter.

Pointing towards his feet, Thomas says this is where “one of our instructors almost went through the floor.”

It goes on and on. Electrical problems. The swimming pool falling apart. The track dangerous to athletes.

If dogs or cats were kept in these conditions, the animal control would arrest the owner.

If a private landlord kept property in this condition, they would face major fines.

But nothing happens to Runcie or his bosses on the School Board.

Derek Messier, chief of the district’s facilities department who Runcie rolls out whenever he doesn’t want to answer a question, blamed the usual boogieman in Yi’s story: A lack of money.

Stranahan didn’t fall apart in a day. It took decades to get this bad, through good times and bad.

‘The community is right in the sense that these things are overdue. There were many promises made in the past for different projects … There was no money for a lot of the work that had been promised,” Messier told the Sun-Sentinel.

So Messier is admitting that Runcie and his staff lied when told the state would be done.

Look at the official documents here:


Strahanan High




And here (The copy sent to me was very fuzzy):


legally adopted budget





As for no money, the School Board found $4 million that was not originally in the construction budget in 2013 to reroof Cooper City High.

Cooper City High has a politically active suburban parent group. Stranahan draws from Fort Lauderdale and is heavily minority.

Get the picture.




cooper city


Allowing our public property to deteriorate to the point where it is dangerous to students is not only negligent. It could violate state laws that require the School Board to safeguard their resources.

Runcie and the School Board may have a handful of the downtown business establishment fooled. Their kids don’t go to Stranahan High.

Let me explain to the downtown business types who prop up Runcie in terms they might understand.  They had better pray that corporate folks seeking to relocate to Broward don’t see the Sun-Sentinel video.

Anybody watching it will see how appalling and scandalous conditions are at Stranahan High. See the video through this link. 

I didn’t post the video because it is copywrited. So for those of you who don’t have a subscription to the and can’t figure how to get around their paywall, I’ll give the final word to veteran school activist Mary Fertig.

Fertig spelled out the problems at Stranahan in this presentation prepared for the School Board in June:

Good Afternoon.

Recently, a friend inquired about the progress of repairs and renovations at Stranahan High School.

In 2012, Chris and I photographed Stranahan High School for a presentation to the Diversity Committee.  We later shared that same presentation with Mr. Runcie, and then the Board.

The selection of Stranahan was not by accident.  We had heard from members of the Diversity Committee after their site visit about their concerns with neglect and disparity.

Friends in the community, alumni of the school, and others have contacted us from time to time about the issues there.

The photos of Stranahan documented campus wide issues that needed immediate attention.  At that time, we went to the facilities and construction management website and copied the list of current projects, etc.

This week-end I went to the same website and copied the same page.  I found that all but one of the “Current Projects” were still “current” projects.  Since the projects included restoring heat, fixing an air chiller and putting fire sprinklers in the auditorium, I assumed they would be completed. After all, who would let kids live with no heat for three plus years?  Apparently, you would.

When I asked how long the heat has been out, I was told it could be as long as 9 years.

But what, I wondered, happened with all the other projects we identified in 2012?

Well, the culinary room that was closed due to unsafe conditions such as the totally rusted and disgusting equipment has been reopened.  Thanks to the principal’s proactive perusal of B-Stock, it has a “new” “used” stove and refrigerators that someone else didn’t need anymore.

And the pool that the staff was keeping open with constant oversight due to the faulty filtration system?  It has been closed for a year.

The Students at Stranahan can’t play football or run track at their schools.  One of the few things they could do – hold swim meets – is now impossible. And take a look at the 2012 photo. Do you see something missing? The pool looks exactly the same today.

Next I went to the ADEFP.  You may remember that many of us spoke last summer during the needs assessment for the Bond and the public hearings for the ADEFP.  Leaking roofs at Stranahan have been a problem for a long time.  Money has been in the budget to fix the roofs.  The problem:  The roofs have not been fixed.

And money has been in the budget for an ADA ramp.  The problem: The ramp has not been done.

And money has been in the budget for an air chiller.  Please look at the photos of the roof where the air chiller still waits to be done.

Back to the facilities issues raised by the community, the Diversity Committee, our photos.

Well, the tent that supplements the dining space for the too small cafeteria has been replaced with a new tent that already has holes.

The roof still leaks, the paint is still peeling.  There is an old condemned portable still sitting on site with mold on the outside, tarps on the roof and total disaster inside.

The Good news:  Stranahan received national recognition for their outstanding magnet program.  They have a committed and dynamic faculty.

But how much longer can they hang on without the repairs that were promised years ago.

Realize that a student entering high school the year we took photos – 2011-12 – graduated this year – never having heat, with a leaky roof, dilapidated restrooms, ceilings caving in due to unrepaired roofs, unable to compete on a home field, too few library books, eating lunch in a leaky tent.

For most of the last forty years – if not all – Fort Lauderdale has been a donor city, meaning our tax dollars went to build and fix schools in other cities.  But even the poorest school in the poorest city in the poorest county should not have to experience what the students and staff experience at Stranahan on a daily basis.

And the signs of disrespect go beyond the poor physical condition of the facility.  There are rumors that the District is putting an alternative school or adult program in a wing of the school. Normally, you would expect that there might be some conversation with the school community about this.  But not at Stranahan.

So this community could have something thrust upon them that other communities have had time to assess and determine the impact.

We have proven in Fort Lauderdale that a good facility with a good program and good staff will succeed.  Stranahan has good programs – although they could use expanded electives but that would require providing them with the same equipment that other schools take for granted.

They have a great staff – They just need to have the facility.

We are celebrating the 100 year anniversary of Broward Schools.  Just a quick history lesson – the first school teacher was Ivy Cromartie who actually started teaching before there was a Broward County Public School System.  She was deeply committed to public education and believed that every child regardless of their circumstances should receive a quality education.  In time she married Frank Stranahan. Her passion for public education continued throughout her life.  She and her husband gave land for school sites for many of the schools in our community. Eventually, a school was named in their honor.  And that School was Stranahan High School.

Today, we ask that you demonstrate a commitment to keep the promises made by making sure that by the opening of school for 2015-16:

The pool is open and ready for swim season.

The ADA ramp funded in the ADEFP is completed

The “Current Projects” of 2012 are completed

And please get this school some bleachers!

Thank you.


(Personal disclosures:  Mary’s husband Chris Fertig’s law firm has done legal work for my family and me. That doesn’t change one fact about Stranahan.

I know and worked with Susan Stocker at the Sun-Sentinel. Karen Yi came to the Sun-Sentinel after I retired.)

27 Responses to “School Board’s Shame: HS’s Appalling Condition”

  1. Layne Walls says:

    This is typical I’m sorry to say for eastern schools. Northeast High has had a tarp on the roof since hurricane Wilma blew through Broward County. This statement was made by the superintendent representative that spoke at our Kiwanis meeting before the bond vote. She said they had the money but were not fixing it to help the bond pass – 2 years later still no roof. Ceilings falling in on students- mold everywhere- Terrible conditions! I’m writing this on my cell phone because I could not wait to get to a computer to reply to this story- I hope it makes sense because very little of how we talk about the eastern schools does!

  2. Amber B says:

    There was no ac in many parts of the building for the last month or more of school. Kids were dehydrating and passing out. I am more concerned with functioning AC when they return in August. It is inhumane to expect them to suffer that way. The office area AC always seem to work just fine btw.

  3. Independent says:

    Why can’t the Broward County Health Department and the Broward County Inspectors go in, based just on the photos, and shut the place down until repairs are done?

  4. carolina says:

    Now Come On! Did you really believe when that bond issue, filled with false promises, that so many uninformed voters were suckered into voting for, would benefit the eastern schools? I was so proud of my NO vote but I lost. Bit by bit the truth is coming out. Our eastern schools were here first, we are the oldest, we are the most needy, but we are also proud of our schools. We definitely should come first.

  5. Zachary Taylor says:

    I hope no one is surprised by Buddy’s article. It is typical in Broward to let the schools on the east side stay in disrepair while schools out west get fixed. One of the things that bothers me the most is yes these are buildings, but students go there everyday. Stranhan was suppose to get a new school, but that idea was scrapped when the recession started. However, Cooper City High School was replaced piece by piece. The school is beautiful. The School Board did go back and put money for Stranahan High School in 2012/13 District Educational Financial Plan (DEFP). Those are the items mentioned above in Buddy’s and Mary Fertig’s piece. Mr. Messier has been using the excuse of I am new, but how long do you have to be on the job before you can be held accountable? I think one year is more than enough time. Oh. then there is Mr. Runcie who has been here since 2011 and has overseen the past 4 DEFPs. The School Board approved the money and they rely on him to get this done. When will the board hold him accountable? Personally, I think TODAY is a good day. Safety of the students is the number one priority, teaching and learning come second. What happened to the safety of the kids at Stranahan? I am through with my litany and I can still believe the School Board will make Mr. Runcie do his job or let him go.

  6. Dan Lewis says:

    It’s an old game – nothing changes.

    In 1990, when I was an elected Commissioner for the City of Miramar, we had a similar problem with the deplorable and unsafe conditions at Miramar High. Then the School Board and the superintendent at the time refused to honor their commitments or their obligations. At my request and upon my motion, the City of Miramar Commission unanimously passed a resolution declaring Miramar High as unsafe. Further, the resolution provided that the City of Miramar would attest to the school’s unsafe conditions in any litigation against the School board brought by any sick or injured person as a consequence of the conditions at the school.

    Wouldn’t you know it, repairs began in 90 days – and after significant construction progress and financial commitments in the form of awarded contracts to address the schools problems were executed, The city of Miramar vacated its resolution.

    Perhaps this might be a workable strategy for the City of Fort Lauderdale with respect to Stranahan High.

    Enough talk. Take action!

  7. Nick Sakhnovsky says:

    Thank you, Mary and everyone else for their ongoing activity on Stranahan’s behalf. The ongoing excuse since the turn of the century was that the school would be entirely rebuilt, hence the neglect. Amazingly even with condition-based prioritization, nothing has been done and not enough is being planned. Parts of the school are unusable, dismaying and puzzling the exchange student we hosted as a family a couple of years ago. We need to work even harder for District accountability for all expenditures at every school, but especially where community voices are not being heard.

  8. Talks like a politician says:

    Hmmm! Boat yards and other businesses along the river are being chased out of Fort Lauderdale so condos can be built. Stranahan is on the river. Could there possibly be a private/public partnership that has its eye on the property? Sort of a reverse sting from the Forman family dealings that bought land then sold it at a premium to the school system.
    No matter what the reason, it is indeed criminal to expect students to learn and teachers to teach in a building that is falling apart. Where is the City Commissioner that represents this area? Where is the School Board representative? On Las Olas? In Weston? In Parkland?

  9. Juliet Hibbs says:

    So many abuses in Broward Schools. We need a continuous protest….street corner with signs with something about what needs to be done! mine would read something like Children abused in Broward Schools daily! It has been lies for decades. Runcie and his leadership are doing more damage on top of damage! Will be ever recover if something doesn’t change soon!

  10. Talks like a politician says:

    In answer to my own question: The School Board representative for Stranahan High School is Heather Brinkworth, an alumnus of the school and a former teacher. She was appointed to her position by Gov. Scott.
    Robert McKinzie, who lives in Plantation, but somehow was elected to the Fort Lauderdale City Commission, represents the city district in which Stranahan is located. McKinzie replaced Bobby DuBose who is now a Florida State Representative. Both McKinzie and DuBose are Democrats.
    Step up, politicos! Represent!

  11. Former School Board Insider says:

    Why are we not surprised? I’m sorry to tell you that nothing has changed in over 17 years since the CCC first called attention to the disrepair of the eastern schools.

    Nothing will change, either. The district is too large. While the bureaucrats may shift their positions on the organizational chart, and new school board members continue to be elected, the problems remain because there is no accountability.

    I used to think that single member districts would provide better accountability for the individual districts, but we need to seriously consider returning to having each school board member run at large.

    I’m sure the representative for Stranahan is advocating for that school, but even with the help of the two at-large members, that’s only three out of the majority of five votes necessary to create a meaningful voice.

    Also, as long as the downtown power brokers and so called money people continue to blindly support whichever Superintendent is in charge at the moment, and continue to threaten board members who try to hold the Superintendent accountable, there will be no positive changes.

    There needs to be a change in state statute allowing school board districts to be smaller, and not based on each county having their own school district.

    Broward is too large, the system is too broken, and as long as it continues the way it is, unfortunately, schools like Stranahan, and students in these schools, will continue suffer due to the misfeasance and malfeasance of the staff, superintendent and school board members who don’t have the cajones to do something about it.

  12. Swifty says:

    I can only conclude there are not enough profits to be made rehabbing this school for the business interests that rammed through the bond issue for their own purposes.

  13. Broward Native says:

    If I could breathe fire I would. Sadly, the citizens of Broward are to blame at a basic level. We continue to re-elect the same lying, corrupt, inept morons to run the school system. Then, on top of that, we give them a billion dollars!

    If Scott Israel is the real deal (side note, after being adamantly opposed to him he has completely won me over) then he would sick his detectives and child protection deouties on those named above and start making arrests. Maybe Michael Satz can pull himself away from drinking a cup of coffee and send out his investigators. Mayor Jack Seiler of Ft. Lauderdale, who has a true love for his community, should be out there banging the drum and holding a press conference in front of the school. I never thought I would say this in a million years, but maybe it’s time to call the U.S Justice Department and have them open a civil rights investigation.

    This has gone on for far too long. Just a few years ago a grand jury report came out that stated they would disband the school board if they could. Nothing done. It’s business as usual at the school board. Same arrogance.

  14. Walter Duke says:

    Great column and guest comments. Many other eastern schools in the same shape. Come take a look at Collins Elementary and Hollywood Hills High School. Dan is right. It’s time for action. And everyone wonders why new well maintained charter schools are so popular?

  15. From the Inside says:

    Comments on Buddy Nevins are all on target no one can can find fault with data.

    Some years ago the Department of Education approved the request for a phased replacement of this Facility. It was determined that it would be more economical to demolish the existing buildings and build a new facility rather than spend money for remodeling and renovations.

    At this time I am not sure if under enrollment is a consideration as I believe there was a suicide plan to re-purpose this facility to be an administration site.

  16. Charlotte Greenbarg says:

    Mary Fertig campaigned for the $800 million, and still they ignore that school. Those who will not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. As in electing the same people and expecting different results. As in expecting the SA to do anything. As in supporting a tax because you believe their promises.

    Until the Feds or the state place an oversight committee, nothing will change because of the corruption that has long been the culture.


    You are right. Fertig was a major backer of the bond referendum behind the scenes. It goes to prove that now that the bonds have passed, Runcie and the School Board doesn’t believe that they have to listen to anybody. Forget about Fertig. What about the hundreds of Stranahan parents?

    And I too wish the feds or Mike Satz would investigate the continued mismanagement in the management of school money.

  17. Becky Blackwood says:

    Where did all of the maintenance money go that could have replaced the chiller? Where did the safety money go that was supposed to pay for emergency safety issues. Non functioning fire sprinklers is an emergency. After the push to get Dillard High School replaced, Stranahan was scheduled to follow because of its age.

    I have advocated for a separate roofing department for years which could remove and replace the roofs at Stranahan without waiting for a construction project. Both Miami Dade and Broward have separate roofing departments that can act faster to prevent water intrusion and resultant mold and mildew. The District’s Roofing Department has only been allowed to roof portables because of their poor training and little experience. Does maintenance only have money to pay large salaries and no money to do emergency roofing.

    What happened to the EPA’s program adopted by the School Board called Tools for Schools for those 154 schools designated with mold and mildew in 2000. The last group of 30 were never addressed and the program was dropped.

    I would like to know how the Board members have been threatened – to not be reelected? Not doing their jobs should result in their not being elected.

    Where was the project manager for Stranahan who didn’t advocate for its poor condition. Where is the full Needs Assessment on Stranahan? It should have identified the deplorable condition of the school and made it a priority.

    With property prices rising, there should be more property taxes to address Stranahan. The School Board needs to immediately hire a Professional of Record to start the plans, unless there are plans already completed that will address current conditions. The construction documents normally takes 1.5 years and that’s an optimistic view. It might do better as a Design/Build project where the contractor and the Professional of Record form a partnership to build the school. The construction will take 2 or 3 years. These students and staff can’t wait and neither can the school?

    How about some of the outstanding alumnus taking on this cause and starting a fund to at least pay for the architect’s fees? Isn’t there a local company that will form a partnership with this school to get the ball rolling.
    This school needs your help.

  18. Talks like a politician says:

    An alumnus of Stranahan represents Stranahan on the School Board. It is one of Heather Brinkworth’s schools. Maybe she will speak up for Stranahan after all this publicity.
    @14 So exactly when are you as an elected official in Dania Beach going to speak up for Collins Elementary?? Hollywood Hills is in Hollywood.

  19. Teacher at Stranahan says:

    As a teacher at the school I among other know the sorry state of the campus. We have been “told” to keep quiet and not to rock the boat. How many teachers, assistant principals and principals are promoted in the system when they make waves. Until the system changes I doubt there will be anyone “in” the system to rock the boat or say anything negative for fear of retribution.
    I have a family and need my job and I am not going to be a “tipster” for the community knowing that it might cause me to lose my job. Sorry Broward County that is how the school board works, FEAR!

  20. Count LF Chodkiewicz Chudzikiewicz says:

    Now please don’t think I am an apologist for any public official – Commissioner Robert McKinzie or any other Fort Lauderdale City official, but, you, know the twice a month City Commission meetings are OPEN TO EVERYONE and NO ONE SHOWS UP! Why don’t the Mayor and City Commissioners do anything about the lousy schools like Mr. Lewis suggested? Because NO ONE EVER COMPLAINS IN PUBLIC, BECAUSE NO ONE EVER COMPLAINS TO THEM! Look, being a Jewish investor I am very aware that Jewish developers and financiers in New York, Miami, and Miami Beach have purchased over 2 Billion Dollars in waterfront or North Federal Highway real estate over the past 2 or 3 years. Many of them give MILLIONS to Universities, Colleges, Private Schools. Do you think any Stranahan High School parent ever wrote to Louis Wolfson III, Michael Wohl, the Tate brothers, the Taplin brothers, Sergio Rok, Steve Ross – DO I HAVE TO GO ON? asking for a donation to the school. HELL NO! Why? Because unlike schools in, say Parkland, Coral Gables, or Boca Raton or even Delray Beach or Miami Beach, THE PARENTS IN FORT LAUDERDALE IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS DON’T CARE! I bet everyone who complains has KIDS IN PRIVATE SCHOOL, KIDS GROWN UP, or KIDS LIVING OUT OF STATE!!!!! The local parents in public schools just don’t care!!! So why should politicians or School Board officials!!!!!

  21. Talks like a politician says:

    You are correct, unfortunately. Many schools in central Fort Lauderdale have enrollments close to 2000 students. At the high school level, about 15 parents show up for parent meetings. Northeast High School held a community meeting in May to ask for input on hiring a new principal. About 7 parents attended plus several teachers. That school is also in horrible condition and the outgoing principal was not good for the school.
    It is pathetic that parents are not more vocal. It is as if people have gone numb and will accept whatever happens. We won’t know what we have until we lose it all.

  22. Buck up says:


    No A/C? let the kids learn how it was for us at SHS pre 1973 when we did not have A/C.

    If it is that important, cough up some dough and send them to Saint Thomas…..


    The world changed in the past 40 years. Nobody expect students to attend schools without air conditioning.

    That’s not the point. The point is that the School Board promised to repair Stranahan and didn’t do it. Superintendent Robert Runcie promised to repair Stranahan and didn’t do it. They lied.

  23. Torpedo21 says:

    Parents are not at fault, as we have many supporters at Stranahan High School, especially within Athletics and our Magnet Program. We showed our support multiple times for the Bond (hoping to get at least something for our school), worked the poles for Heather Pomper Brinkworth because we believe in her (still do!), and attended numerous “stakeholder meetings” over the years about our deplorable school. The more we give, the more we are pushed back or filled with false hopes. We have witnessed millions of dollars going to waste in architectural fees, plans being stored on a shelf (not once, but twice), and unanswered promises by previous board members. It’s not that we don’t care, we are TIRED of the lies, deceit & constant malfeasance of our school board. We know we have Heather Pomper Brinkworth on our side, but it takes more than one lone soldier on the board to stand up for what is right. It’s time to quit pointing fingers & find out the real reason why every school has been rebuilt except for Stranahan High School. We are tired of the same old excuses, “we don’t have the money,” “the person for that job was let go,” “you’re next,” etc. the bottom line: money has been put aside, where is it?; our parents DO CARE!; and our kids deserve better. WHERE IS THE ACCOUNTABILITY?

  24. Becky Blackwood says:

    If plans are ready to go, then this project could be bid out in phases to get it going. Certainly Messier can put out an advertisement to just bid out one building or a section of the school that is in the worst condition. Are there plans – are they updated. That could already be in the works. Or is Messier waiting for the one company who won both the Owner’s Representatives and the Project Control bids to make up their mind which bid they will take to get the ball rolling?

    I am certain all of the high rollers who bought the property in the area of Stranahan will have a difficult time developing and selling their developments with a public school nearby that is falling apart at the seams. What about the property owners in Sailboat Bend? They should be interested in maintaining their property values.

  25. JoAnne Boggus says:

    Isn’t Stranahan’s condition just symptomatic of the larger condition of public schools in this Republican led state? Isn’t the purpose to ultimately close public schools and move totally to charter schools and/or state-supported privately run schools – some of which are run by for-profit companies. Hasn’t funding for capital improvements to public schools been reduced while capital funding for privately controlled charter schools has increased? Hmm.


    In this case, the school system had the money from the Republican-led Legislature to fix the school. The School Board and superintendent included Stranahan in the schedule of projects that could be paid for by the state money that they were receiving. They didn’t do it.

  26. Parent and Advocate says:

    To those who blantantly denounce and accuse Stranahan parents or any other group of parents of not caring. I say shame on you. Many students who attend Stranahan’s Magnet Programs and other offerings wake as early as 4:30 every school day morning to board buses from their respective communities to head East to the city of Ft. Lauderdale. These students and their parents are not uninformed, detached or unconcerned quite the
    contrary, they are seeking a High Quality
    educational experience. One that gives them an opportunity to explore a career interest not afforded to them at their home schools like Meficine and Engineering. Stranahan is a great school with dedicated teachers, good kids and parentss who want the best for their children. It is time to look for solutions to a systemic problem “why are there huge disparities in the schools in Broward County? ” Why do some kids get a world class 21st century campus while others are subjected to delapidated facilities? The answer to this question is out there. Those of you who blame the parents
    and students currently subjected to these
    conditions at Stranahan. Please seek an answer to this question. Our kids are waiting for a response.

  27. Bonnie says:

    It seems to me that the money needed to fix Stranahan High School was the reason for bond issue passing. Are the commissioners wanting to use the money to build the new court house?

    Fix Stranahan High School