Leaky ceilings, unusable playing fields and decaying, broken equipment at two eastern Broward high schools headline a report meant to measure Broward’s success in evenly providing for all of its schools.
The report, presented Tuesday to the Broward School Board, delved into Broward’s checkered past when it comes to achieving equality, and highlighted recent problems at Hallandale High School and Fort Lauderdale’s Stranahan High, both of which serve large minority populations. It was produced by Citizens Concerned about our Children, which has long pushed the district to address racial disparities in both school facilities and curriculum.
Among the findings:
• A sewage leak in the ceiling of the boys locker room at Hallandale High that forced its closure.
• Hallandale High’s school library could qualify as a “history museum of ancient computers,” said Chris Fertig, an attorney with CCC. Not only were the computers outdated, but many were also broken.
• Photos showing widespread decay at historic Stranahan High, including a leaky gym, a broken filter on the swimming pool, and an unusable track field that forces sprinters to practice at other nearby schools.
Schools across Broward are struggling with decrepit buildings and deferred maintenance as money for capital improvements has dried up in the past few years. Even some of Broward’s newer suburban schools have repair needs that are being put off because the district can’t afford to pay for them.
Miami-Dade’s school district, too, has struggled with financing capital projects. Both districts had their construction funding significantly slashed by state lawmakers in recent years, and both districts have a large number of schools that were built 40 or more years ago. Miami-Dade voters in November approved a $1.2 billion bond issue that will boost spending on school construction and technology needs. Broward school leaders are considering asking their own voters to do the same.
CCC visited Hallandale High in 2011, and Stranahan High last year. District leaders said they have responded to the complaints and that some of the issues identified in the report may have been recently fixed, though they couldn’t immediately give specifics.
“The quality of the schools, and the facilities and resources they have, sends a really deep message to our children and our community,” Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie told board members. “You either perpetuate a psychology of low expectations or high expectations, based on what those facilities look like.”
Runcie promised he would provide board members with an update on conditions at Stranahan “in short order,” though he warned that the district must take bold action soon on its facilities needs or, “We’re going to see a lot more schools looking like Stranahan.”
In one Stranahan physical education/health classroom, the antiquated air-conditioning unit is so loud that students can’t hear the lesson when it’s turned on, Fertig said.
“It literally drowned out any type of conversation whatsoever,” Fertig said. “They can either be cool, or they can hear.”
At one point, Esther Mizell, a district diversity committee member who graduated from Stranahan in 1970, stood and approached a microphone to address the board. But the projection-screen photographs of dilapidation at her former school unexpectedly left Mizell overcome with emotion — sobbing, she simply walked away without uttering a word.
“It broke my heart,” Mizell later said.
Though CCC has complained about school conditions since the mid-1990s — including filing a lawsuit that was settled in 2000 — the tone of its relationship with the district has changed markedly since then. Broward was once combative with the group, and spent heavily on drawn-out court battles rather than admit any wrongdoing.
These days, with a new superintendent and a board dominated by new faces, the district has a generally cooperative relationship with the group.
Board members took Tuesday’s report as a call to action, and promised to do better.
“We’re at a new place,” said board member Rosalind Osgood, elected in November. “I won’t be silent about issues of equity ... as we deal with the brutal facts, that’s a part of leadership.”
Board members also said a shift in the district’s internal culture was needed. When CCC has visited schools to photograph poor building conditions, it was often done under the veil of secrecy, as school employees feared retaliation if they were caught publicizing the issue.
“It’s not scary to come to us,” board member Donna Korn said in a message to school staffs. “We’re asking you to.”
Funding cuts approved by state lawmakers forced Broward to remove $1.8 billion in capital projects from its five-year plan. Korn suggested that the district, when hosting state leaders at school locations, should resist the temptation to take those politicians to Broward’s shiny and new school facilities.
Instead, she said, the tour should go where the situation is most dire — to schools and classrooms that are literally being held together through band-aid measures.
“That’s what they should see every time they come to our schools,” Korn said.