Broward County

Grand Jury Recommends 4 Broward School Board Members Be Removed

The grand jury began meeting 15 months after 14 students and three staff members were gunned down on Feb. 14. 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, a Broward County suburb

NBC Universal, Inc.

A Florida grand jury empaneled after a 2018 school massacre has recommended that Gov. Ron DeSantis remove from office four members of the Broward County school board, saying they and district administrators displayed “deceit, malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty and incompetence” in their handling of a campus safety program.

In the 122-page report released Friday, the panel recommended that DeSantis suspend board members Patricia Good, Donna Korn, Ann Murray and Laurie Rich Levinson. A former member, Rosalind Osgood, was also targeted, but she is now a member of the Florida Senate.

The grand jury began meeting 15 months after 14 students and three staff members were gunned down on Feb. 14. 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, a Broward County suburb. The shooter, Nikolas Cruz, pleaded guilty in October and is now on trial to decide whether he will be sentenced to death or life without parole.

A Florida grand jury empaneled after a 2018 school massacre has recommended that Gov. Ron DeSantis remove from office four members of the Broward County school board. NBC 6's Kim Wynne reports

Former Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie resigned last year after he was indicted for allegedly lying to the grand jury. He has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial. The district is the nation's sixth-largest, with more than 270,000 students.

The grand jury said that Runcie's and the accused board members' “uninformed or even misinformed decisions, incompetent management and lack of meaningful oversight” has led to massive cost overruns and delays in a school program approved by county voters in 2014 — the SMART Bond project — that deals with safety as well as school construction projects and technology upgrades.

The report says the $1 billion program that was supposed to be completed in 2021 is now projected to cost $1.5 billion when it is finished in 2025 — estimates the jury called “wishcasting.”

“This doubling of time and almost 50 percent increase in cost did not happen overnight,” the grand jury wrote. “It was a slow-boiling frog that resulted from years of mismanagement from multiple (district) officials whose mistakes were compounded by the Board, which has....refused to hold (district) leadership to account.”

“I think it’s absolutely outrageous," Levinson told NBC 6 on Monday. "If there had been fraud found, there would have been indictments.”

Other accused school board members and Osgood did not immediately respond Friday to calls and emails seeking comment. Runcie’s attorney did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

DeSantis also had no immediate comment. He fired former Broward Sheriff Scott Israel just after he took office in January 2019, saying Israel's lack of leadership contributed to the Stoneman Douglas shooting.

“It was just about blame," Levinson said. "It was just about blaming our former superintendent and blaming every board member who supported him.”

The scalding report from the grand jury is almost entirely about the SMART Bond project, which has little to do with school security. The report singled out board member Lori Alhadeff for praise, and she supports its recommendations.

“It’s findings of the many failures in our state cools are unacceptable as are the numerous and well-documented incidents of corruption, fraud, mismanagement and incompetence it has revealed here in Broward County," Alhadeff said in a video statement. "Those who have been named in the report for wrongdoing must be held accountable.”

The grand jury report says the Broward school district seems to be more focused on how it is viewed publicly than on actual accomplishment.

"Broward County has provided a cornucopia of examples of an almost fanatical desire to control data and use it to manipulate public perception, including that surrounding safety," the grand jury wrote. Runcie and the accused board members “are seemingly obsessed with the optics of any situation and control of public impressions of their activities.”

“The District produces training materials on ‘Building the Brand’ as though the district were all important while its students were mere commodities and instructs employees to always consider how situations might affect the perception of the District as opposed to the reality," the jury wrote.

___

AP writers Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee and David Fischer in Miami contributed to this report.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us