During a pivotal time in its history, Broward’s school district is sticking with Superintendent Robert Runcie at the helm, after School Board members overwhelmingly voted on Tuesday to extend his contract for an additional five years.
The extension, which keeps Runcie’s salary at $276,700, adds up to a total of six years, with one year remaining on his original contract from 2011.
After board members voted 8-1 to extend the superintendent’s employment, Runcie is now in line to lead Broward until October of 2019.
Runcie said his position is “not a job, it’s a mission.”
“It’s a life calling to work and leave a legacy for our children, that they’re prepared for the next century,” Runcie said. “I’ve made that commitment.”
Board members praised Runcie for pushing the district to focus on the quality of classroom instruction, and for making himself routinely accessible to the community. Runcie has also sacrificed his family life by working tremendously long hours, board members said.
“Unless you have a twin, Mr. Runcie, I really don’t know how you do it,” board member Katie Leach said.
Board member Nora Rupert cast the lone vote against the contract extension, saying she supported the superintendent but felt a shorter contract was more appropriate. The board still retains the right to fire Runcie, with or without cause.
Looking ahead, the challenges for Broward are many: The district must transition to an all-new (and somewhat controversial) statewide curriculum known as Common Core; Broward’s aging school buildings are struggling with leaky roofs and other urgent repair needs; and enrollment at district schools continues to drop as students flock to competing charter schools, a worrisome trend that threatens the district’s long-term survival. District schools have an enrollment of 224,955 students this year — down 2,562 from last year. Broward’s charter school enrollment keeps rising each year, and is now 37,608 — an increase of 4,325 students over last year.
“It’s a big wake-up call,” Runcie said of charters, adding that he believes traditional district schools offer superior programming to students, both in terms of variety and quality. The task, he said, is effectively communicating that message to parents.
When Runcie arrived two years ago, the nation’s sixth-largest school district was reeling from a string of embarrassing scandals — two board members had been arrested on corruption charges, and a state grand jury report blasted the district for reckless spending of taxpayer funds.
Under its new superintendent, Broward has had some ups and downs — last year’s school bus problems among them — but the district also made tangible progress in a variety of areas.
With Runcie in charge, Broward overhauled its construction contract procedures to better protect taxpayers, and launched a Black Male Success Task Force to address the poor graduation rates and high number of suspensions among Broward’s black male students.
The district also aggressively worked to reduce its class sizes. Broward in recent years struggled mightily to meet the state’s class-size requirements — two years ago, almost half of the district’s classes had too many students.
Last year, the district performed much better, with more than 87 percent of classes in compliance. Part of that improvement was due to the hiring of nearly 1,900 new teachers. But another tactic — overhauling high school schedules — has angered the Broward Teachers Union.
The high school change forced many teachers to teach an extra class, without additional pay. The union fought the changes and won — over the summer, an arbitrator ruled that Broward “completely ignored” contract provisions that allow teachers to keep their school’s current schedule if they prefer.
A second arbitration ruling was an even bigger union victory: In August, an arbitrator found that the district owes its high school teachers as much as $20 million in back pay because of the scheduling changes.
In negotiating a way to pay teachers that money, the district and union have repeatedly butted heads. BTU President Sharon Glickman complained that “teachers are extremely irate. The high school teachers, they’re very, very angry.”
Runcie vowed to find a solution to the back-pay problem, which is only the latest hot-button issue in a district that rarely has a dull moment.
“I absolutely value what our teachers do, I understand the challenges that they have,” Runcie said. “I also have to balance the whole entire district.”