The eye-opening evidence that some Broward County schools need critical repairs came from a grassroots group during a recent school board meeting. Citizens Concerned about our Children showed board members slide after slide of leaky roofs, unusable playing fields and a sewage leak in a boys’ locker room, all at two schools serving students in predominantly black neighborhoods.
The message was clear. With a new superintendent and a board dominated by new faces, Broward’s school district must continue to build on its recent progress and maintain schools equally — not just the new ones but also the older ones that have suffered from neglect in the past.
Broward, like Miami-Dade County, has been struggling with older, increasingly decrepit schools as local money for improvements has dried up and construction funding has been slashed by state lawmakers.
In Miami-Dade, that led to voters’ approval last year of a $1.2 billion bond issue to boost school construction and technology. In Broward, Superintendent Robert Runcie, a little more than a year into his job, says he hopes to see “bold action” on the school facilities’ needs. That might include a bond issue similar to Miami-Dade’s.
If Mr. Runcie has any hope of persuading Broward’s citizens that the board can be trusted with the money from a bond issue, he should take a lesson from Miami-Dade Superintendent, Alberto Carvalho, who spent years building trust with voters. Among his most important moves to win credibility, Mr. Carvalho created the 21st Century schools initiative that clearly names each school and its needs (new roofs, technology, air conditioning, etc.) and rules that ensure transparency in the bidding process and forbid board meddling in an attempt to steer contracts to political cronies.
In Broward’s case, there’s a long and lousy history of stunningly bad behavior to overcome — bond issue or not. The district has been plagued by cronyism, mismanagement and a culture of dishonesty. In a scathing grand jury report released almost two years ago, jurors said they found the district so thoroughly corrupt, so reckless in its spending of taxpayers’ money, they would have recommended abolishing the school board completely if the state Constitution didn’t require its existence.
From that deep hole of ill will, the board has — thank goodness — begun climbing out, working to clean up the construction department, fixing some of the schools, replacing board members with newly elected ones and hiring Mr. Runcie, who came from Chicago’s school system. He seems to understand the tremendous amount of work he must do to earn the trust of voters. That includes addressing the problems at Hallandale High School and Fort Lauderdale’s Stranahan High brought to the board’s attention last week by a grassroots group that has long pushed the district to address racial disparities.
“The quality of the schools, and the facilities and resources they have, sends a really deep message to our children and our community,” Mr. Runcie told the board last week.
That’s true. For now, though, the message coming from the school board remains mixed. There’s still a long, hard slog ahead for the district to make a full turn-around and potentially win approval of a bond issue from voters. Building trust will take more than a patched up auditorium roof or a revamped sports field.
It’ll take determination, scrupulous honesty and a lot of work.