Broward School Board gives budget final OK

The Broward County School Board gave final approval Tuesday to the school district’s $1.6 billion budget for the upcoming year — a spending plan that adds hundreds of new teacher positions and restores previously cut electives to elementary schools.

With the help of those additional teachers, school officials hope to do a better job of complying with state class-size requirements — requirements that Broward fell woefully short of a year ago.

Board members have made classroom instruction their top funding priority, and some of the money for more teachers comes from $12 million in cuts to Broward’s school bus transportation system.

Those transportation cuts are part of a wider restructuring of a department that has long struggled with excessive spending and, at times, nepotism issues. But the new-look transportation department got off to a disastrous start during the first few weeks of this school year, with thousands of parents complaining about buses arriving late and some failing to show up at all.

The recent bus mishaps have put Superintendent Robert Runcie on the defensive.

“We still have some lateness issues going on out there,” Runcie told board members shortly before the budget discussion began, though he added that bus service is steadily improving.

Board members, by and large, were supportive of this year’s budget, with School Board member Nora Rupert casting the only no vote.

Though the budget invests substantially in hiring new teachers, teacher salaries are stagnant — despite a last-ditch presentation by the Broward Teachers Union on Tuesday night, just before the budget vote. The union argued that the school district, despite its relatively tight budget picture, usually spends less than it anticipates, and could still afford to fund teacher raises.

“There appears to be a clear pattern of overbudgeting and underspending,” BTU administrator John Tarka told board members. Broward’s teachers have gone four years without a pay increase.

Board members declined to add teacher raises to the budget, though they left open the possibility of reconsidering before the year is done.

“There are amendments, there’s changes,” School Board member Robin Bartleman said. “This is a fluid document throughout the year.”