Broward’s school system has enacted most of the reforms it promised after a damaging state grand jury report, according to an analysis by the school district’s chief auditor.
Nearly two years ago, on the heels of the grand jury blasting Broward for both waste and corruption, the school district adopted a 51-point action plan designed to right the ship. Of those 51 proposed changes, 48 have been implemented, states a report by Chief Auditor Patrick Reilly. He expects the remaining three to be adopted within a year.
The report was presented Wednesday to the Broward School Board. Member Maureen Dinnen praised the new policies and internal safeguards — many of which are focused on promoting more ethical behavior. But Dinnen also complained that the grand jury report had unfairly lumped all board members together in its criticism.
“The report, in my opinion, labeled all board members guilty of improper behaviors,” Dinnen said. “I really resented that at the time, and I resent it now.”
New Broward policies spurred by the grand jury include:
• Ensuring board meeting items with a financial impact are discussed publicly. The grand jury previously faulted Broward for burying some big-ticket items on a section of its agenda that did not require public comment.
• Removing board members from the selection of district contractors and vendors. The grand jury complained that board members had “mired themselves in the day-to-day running of the district, a task for which they are singularly unqualified.”
• No longer allowing School Board members to accept lobbyists’ gifts, a change designed to curb special interest influence in board decisions.
• Eliminating Temporary Certificates of Occupancy issued to newly constructed schools. TCOs were at the heart of some of Broward’s school construction scandals, as the district used them to open unfinished schools to students. Some schools opened under a TCO had significant safety hazards.
“We did a lot of changes to our policies and instituted training for staff and the board,” Reilly said. Overall, Reilly praised the district’s response to the grand jury report as “pretty good.”
The three remaining items on Broward’s reform to-do list include a ban on naming district facilities after sitting School Board members. District leaders are still pursuing the ban, but are working out the details.
Some reforms, when implemented, weren’t quite as tough as the district initially promised. For example, a proposal to ban companies that do business with the district from donating to board members’ campaigns was eventually scaled back. The final version of the rule bans such campaign donations only during a “cone of silence” period when the district is actively choosing between competing companies for a district contract.
The ban on naming facilities after sitting board members, meanwhile, won’t apply retroactively, which board member Nora Rupert wanted. She gave the district’s response to the grand jury a “C+”.
“Sometimes, the spirit of what they were asking us to do wasn’t exactly met,” Rupert said.