Broward voters back school bonds

Thanks to overwhelming voter support, Broward schools will receive $800 million in new investments — new roofs, new air-conditioning systems and new technology for today’s tech-savvy students.

Broward voters on Tuesday approved the spending plan, which will add about $50 to the average homeowner’s property tax bill, by more than a 2-to-1 margin. It was a historic moment for the country’s sixth-largest school district.

“This is amazing,” Broward School Board member Robin Bartleman said late Tuesday evening as more and more “yes” votes continued to trickle in. “I feel so good tonight. I feel so happy for the children in our county.”

Voter Amy Gregory supported the bond issue because of the dilapidated condition of her son’s school, South Broward High School in Hollywood. Gregory said the school needs new air conditioners, a new speaker system, and new computers.

“It’s in pretty bad shape,” she said. “It’s just all run down and old.”

Similar conditions exist at many other Broward schools. Last year, a section of ceiling in the hallway of Oakland Park’s Northeast High School simply collapsed. Chunks of tile dropped to the floor, though students weren’t hurt.

But despite Broward’s glaring need for school repairs, getting the bond issue passed was no cakewalk for school district leaders.

In years past, Broward’s School Board had a string of corruption scandals — which included two board members getting arrested. Even though Broward now has a new superintendent and mostly new school board members, a recurring question came up again and again:

Could Broward really be trusted with $800 million?

Voter Yvette Pino of Hollywood said the district’s checkered past did cross her mind.

“I did think about it, but you know anything that has to do with helping the kids ... I had to go for it,” Pino said.

Broward’s voter-approved bond issue comes two years after voters in Miami-Dade approved a $1.2billion bond issue for public schools.

In Broward, district leaders have spent the past few years trying to convince the public that the school system has changed its ways, and is now conducting itself ethically and responsibly. For example, Broward adopted new contract procedures and safeguards that are designed to protect taxpayers.

For the $800 million bond issue, Broward will have a citizen oversight board to help monitor the spending. Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said the bond issue improvments, which will benefit every school in at least some way, send a message to students that “we care about them.”

And teachers, Runcie said, will know that Broward wants to provide good working conditions.

“Those things together create a real sense of hope, optimism and energy in a school district,” Runcie said. “That is really an essential ingredient for long-term success.”