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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Statewide grand jury calls for abolishment of Broward school board

18

February

In a scathing 51-page report released late Friday, the statewide grand jury blasted the management of the Broward County School District for a culture of corruption, malfeasance and "reckless spending of taxpayer money" and called for the abolishment of the board that runs it.

“We cannot imagine any level of incompetence that would explain what we have seen,’’ reads a report compiled by the Grand Jury. “Therefore we are reluctantly compelled to conclude that at least some of this behavior can best be explained by corruption of our officials by contractors, vendors and their lobbyists.’’

The report also criticized Superintendent Jim Notter, saying he was not strong enough in leading the nation’s sixth largest school district and suggested that the organization is so riddled with problems, the only solution is to appoint an outside monitor to watch all dealings of the district for the foreseeable future. Read full report here.

The report submitted to Judge Victor Tobin on Jan. 21.concludes:

"The corruptive influence here is most often campaign contributions from individuals with a financial  stake in how Board members vote. Long ago the Board should have recognized the risk that putting themselves in the center of handing out hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars would
inevitably drawn attention and undue influence from moneyed interests...Only now, years later and with pressure from all sides, have they begun to take steps to resolve this and other issues.

"Unfortunately based on the history of this Board as an institution, we have no confIdence in their ability to make meaningful changes and to adhere to them. The solutions we see, at least short term, are to remove as much power and influence from the Board as possible and to have an independent outside authority monitor their dealings closely.''

The report blasts the board for "an appalling lack of both leadership and awareness. Rather than focusing on the big picture and looking to the challenges of the future, they have mired themselves in the day to day running of the District, a task for which they are singularly unqualified.''

Among the criticisms, the report says the school board '"seems to be more comfortable with opening unfInished schools than angering the contractors that fund their campaigns through political contributions and fundraisers."

The list of findings is extensive: incomplete and inadequate construction records, untrained inspectors, "wasteful and dubious spending on ill conceived ideas," and board members who "direct that spending towards friends, acquaintances or supporters of Board members without any accountability."

The jurors conclude with 21 recommendations, in addition to calling for an outside monitor to oversee every move until the district and its oversight board roots out corruption and gets into shape. Among them:

• Refuse campaign contributions from contractors, vendors and others doing business with the Board.
• Require mandatory ethics training and testing by an outside agency
• All late additions to the Board's agenda must be discussed at a public meeting.
• Add more detail to agenda items or provide a link to where more information concerning the item can be found.
• Reduce the threshold on spending items on the consent agenda.
• Remove retainage reductions from consent agenda.
• Require recommendation of the Superintendent or the Deputy Superintendent for reduction in retainage to be in writing and under their signature.

• End the influence of the Board over the Building department by turning over iinspections to local building departments.
• Reduce number of school board members to 5.
• Place before the voters the issue of electing the Superintendent
• Create independent office of Inspector General to monitor the Board and District

• Prohibit board members from being involved in the selection of contractors, vendors, or financial institutions.
• No official business should be conducted between school board members and staff

• All bids should be opened in public, with Auditor there to certify bids met minimums.

• No decisions should be made anywhere other than a regularly scheduled board meeting.
• No discussions should be had other than at Board meetings or workshops as per Sunshine Law requirements.
• Prohibit gifts of any value to any Board member or District employee from anyone doing business with the District or lobbying the Board

• Empower Department of Educatoin to penalize districts that don’t file require paperwork by withholding any state funds until certificates of occuampany, inspections and other project documets are filed.

[Last modified: Friday, February 18, 2011 7:40pm]

    

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