Tally Lawmakers Suggest Breaking Up Big, Bureaucratic School Districts






Two Florida lawmakers want voters to decide whether countywide school districts like in Broward County are too big.

A proposed Constitutional Amendment would allow the Legislature to break up countywide districts.  It would also permit cities, the state or the county to create their own school districts.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-Ste. Petersburg, and State Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Fort Myers, introduced the proposed constitutional amendment.

If it passes the House and Senate by 60 percent, the amendment would be on a future statewide ballot.

The idea to break up the countywide school districts is not new in Broward.  It has been suggested in the past by politicians upset by the size, bureaucracy and lack of responsiveness of the countywide Broward County School System.

Countywide school districts were established when the state was largely rural and most cities were very small. Many other states have city school systems.

Brandis explained his proposal to the Tampa Bay Times like this:

“Throughout state government, the state can dissolve counties and combine them. The state can dissolve cities and combine them. But they have no power over school boards without going to the constitution. Maybe it’s time to take those out of the constitution and allow the Legislature to have more review of school boards.”

The Times stated that “Caldwell suggested the proposed new rules would provide more local control to small communities caught up in large countywide bureaucracies.”

In 1996, then-state Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, proposed an amendment which would have broken up large county-wide school districts. She was joined by four other South Florida legislators.

“It brings government closer to the people,” Wasserman Schultz told the Miami Herald at the time.

Wasserman Schultz was reacting to Broward voters, who in 1995 rejected a proposed extra penny sales tax for education.

“One of the reasons the Broward penny-sales tax failed is that it ran into skepticism because people felt the school system lacked responsiveness. Smaller, more grassroots-style boards can respond to concerns quicker.”

It was thought at the time that Wasserman Schultz wanted a smaller system so that her home of Weston could get more attention to solving a serious overcrowding problem in its schools.

The effort failed. But has anything really changed with the unwieldy Broward public schools since 1996?





11 Responses to “Tally Lawmakers Suggest Breaking Up Big, Bureaucratic School Districts”

  1. I'm in says:

    I hate to be one of “those guys” but, this system works “up north” why wouldn’t it work here? I’ve heard the argument that “poor cities” wouldn’t have the resources for a “good” school system, but there are a lot of cities “up north” that are not wealthy that do just fine, even better than down here.

    My vote is yes. Broward has gotten too large, and with single member districts, individual cities or areas cannot get enough votes on the SB to get what they need.

    Let’s do this!

  2. NAK says:

    To answer your question about whether anything really changed with the unwieldy Broward public schools since 1996…..

    Yes, yes things have changed.

    There have been multiple grand jury reports detailing incompetence, misfeasance, malfeasance and criminal behavior in the district.

    There has been an accelerated eroding of our schools, both physically and fiscally.

    There has been a huge growth in bloat in the administration of the district.

    So yes, things have changed. They’ve gone from bad to worse.

    I guess the question will wind up being how districts get broken apart and how school tax money is divided. Will cities be required to run their own city-wide districts or are there municipal elected school boards?

    What happens to the assets of the district like buildings, buses/vehicles, etc.? What happens when there is debt specifically taken for construction at a particular site? Does that debt get pushed to the city/municipal district or does everything get divided evenly county-wide and everyone shares that pain to start with.

    Our district is a complete Cluster-XXXX. While we have some good members of the Board and good administrators, we have a ton of dead-weight as well.

    Break it up and start again — let the cities either combine into smaller groups for unified districts or go (and pay) their own way.

  3. Count LF Chodkiewicz Chudzikiewicz says:

    When I was active in New York City politics a later debarred and now deceased politically active patronage lawyer went after me because I supported two African American candidates for New York Supreme Court in Manhattan. One was Hon Leland deGrasse who later authored a decision under New York State Law poor minority foreign language immigrant children were entitled to the same funding as the rich White children in small wealthy school districts. I have always thought that decision was one of the finest by a candidate n Judge I could call a friend in my active political years.
    So unlike too many fellow liberal Jewish Democrats I MUST SADLY WITH NO JOY say if breaking up Broward County’s School Board area it sounds great as a possible solution to bureaucratic problems but honestly we all know the children of the poor minorities especially African Americans will get the short end of the straw not my cousins in Parkland or Hollywood! I hate to throw water on this proported reform but it isnt a mitzvah it will be a sonda!

  4. Jack shifrel says:

    Nothing is as easy as it seems. If this went through & was ultimately approved in Broward, we could have as many as 30, but more likely around 20 school districts in the county. That would mean 20 layers of bureaucracy, including 20 superintendendants along with their staffs, & there would be 20 school boards, with 5,7 or 9 members each, with salaries for all these people being paid for only by the taxpayers within each micro-district. Each would need their own transportation & construction department and I could go on & on. Perhaps the most significant challenge would be overcoming the likelihood of re-segregation, with the possibility of Federal intervention, that could mean districts would be required to bus students out of their new districts to meet unitary school population requirements.


    Veteran Democratic activist, Jack Shifrel is a former Broward County School Board member in the early 1980s. He served for a time with Kathleen Wright, the Board member killed in a Dallas plane crash whose name adorns the School Board headquarters today.

  5. Talks like a politician says:

    This idea, dreamed up by politicians, would only duplicate many times over the bumbling incompetence demonstrated by the current county wide system.

    Fixing the problem is not rocket science. One solution would be to take the Superintendent, whoever is the current person in charge, and school based administrators out of the construction business, the transportation business, and the maintenance business. The trained educators should be in charge of education which is the purpose of schools.

    The people in charge of the support systems: construction, maintenance, and transportation need to step up to the plate and do their jobs. There are legions of them on the payroll.

    The business model of education in Broward is flawed. However, it is fixable. Think outside the current box!

  6. Floridan says:

    I could see dividing Broward into two school districts, with the dividing line being, perhaps, I-595.

    However, given the demographics of the county, I doubt that school districts based on municipal boundaries would pass any judicial review.

  7. An Observation says:

    “But has anything really changed with the unwieldy Broward public schools since 1996?”

    No, not really and in many cases it is worse. Add to that that in 10 years from now we will be writing about the waste and possible fraud involving the $800 million for capital improvements.

    With very few exceptions, I see very little different. The School Board still isn’t any good at reviewing administration and management. The Schools keep getting the same grades or worse. Students aren’t at grade level in many schools. Administration knows how to play politics but doesn’t know how to maintain a school system.

    Just be careful how you break up the district. You could create a lot of haves and have nots.

  8. Count LF Chodkiewicz Chudzikiewicz says:

    For any deluded but well meaning citizens of Broward County I point out I defended School Districts in New York City with locally elected school boards that became mini political machines, district superindents that became political power brokers on top of which was a city wide school board with a bureaucracy that of course duplicated and complicated the local boards. Eventually Mayor Bloomberg got the State to abolish the whole mess n have one guy responsible to the mayor.
    Besides the Civil Rights Laws just plain economic disparities would make local school boards a nightmare compounded by waste cronyism nepotism multiplied beyond belief. Put a stake through the heart of this ticking bomb!

  9. WestDavieResident says:

    I agree with #5 that all is needed is to let educators do educating and have separate entities handle physical plant, transportation, and construction.

    Breaking up the Broward County School District will serve no purpose other than to create more elected boards, administrative patronage jobs,and duplicity of effort.

    Plus with the explosive growth of charter schools, the Broward District is already getting smaller thanks to the free market.

    Perhaps if Runcie and the School Board did not have to handle non-educational issues, they could focus on putting together better education programs which might even bring back students from the charter schools.

  10. Charlotte Greenbarg says:

    For all of the good reasons listed above by knowledgeable people, dividing the district is a really bad idea as we try to solve the systemic abuses ingrained in many districts, obviously including Broward.

    We suggested years ago 1996 I think in an op-ed piece to the Sun-Sentinel among other things that the operations of Facilities and Purchasing be done by independent entities answerable to the state.

    But there’s so much money to be had and so many patronage jobs to be held that it went nowhere.

    Better to suggest to the Legislature removing the problem departments from the districts.

  11. Count LF Chodkiewicz Chudzikiewicz says:

    If you look on the internet for the vendors n contractors who donated 50 000 or 100 000 dollars each to the now closed Miami Beach PAC the Mayor n a Commissioner set up. Look at the names of Broward firms with School Board or County contracts! There is so much profit in sleazy lobbied government contracts here in Broward the Workshop Chamber of Commerce n the Downtown Ft Lauderdale crowd that lives off the fat contracts fund candidates who will never permit honest contracti g anywhere here! As long as the VOTERS wont vote volunteer or contribute to honest candidates the Osgoods Freemans Murrays Korns of this world including Nan Rich’s daughter let us liberal Jewish Democrats remember when Nan hits us for yet more Gelt for her ego trips!