Grand jury recommends removal of four current board members

A long-awaited grand jury report into the management of Broward schools recommended that Gov. Ron DeSantis remove five School Board members, four of whom still are on the board.

One of those, Rosalind Osgood, has already left the School Board and is now serving as a state senator. The others recommended for removal are Patricia Good, Donna Korn, Ann Murray and Laurie Rich Levinson.

The report said they “have engaged in acts of incompetence and neglect of duty.”

The terms of Levinson and Murray are up in November. They are not seeking re-election. Korn, however, is running for re-election on Tuesday.

Although the grand jury and the report have been finished since April 2021, the release has been delayed. Those who were named in it were given an opportunity to read it and file objections, which were reviewed by the prosecutors.

The report comes in the wake of the grand jury’s indictments of former Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie, former General Counsel Barbara Myrick, and Tony Hunter, the district’s former chief information officer.

This was the fourth grand jury report in 25 years to focus on the school district, and the most scathing one. The other reports came out in 1997, 2002 and 2011.

This was also the first grand jury to issue indictments. Although two School Board members were arrested in corruption cases in the 18 months before a 2011 grand jury report came out, neither arrest was directly related to the grand jury.

Although the original focus on school security, much of the focus shifted to mismanagement and corruption identified by the South Florida Sun Sentinel related to technology and the slow progress of an $800 million bond to renovate schools.

The grand jury was announced Feb. 13, 2019, the week of the one-year anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, which left 17 people dead and 17 wounded.

DeSantis, who had just been sworn in the month before, announced there needed to be accountability for the Parkland tragedy. He started Jan. 8 by suspending Sheriff Scott Israel, declaring “the massacre might never have happened had Broward had better leadership in the sheriff’s department.”

Citing failures by Broward school officials to ensure student safety before the mass murder of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, DeSantis petitioned the state Supreme Court to impanel a statewide grand jury. The court agreed.

“Patterns of fraud and deceit by public entities shirking responsibility may exist and repeat throughout the state,” the governor said. “A statewide grand jury is an appropriate vehicle to investigate these matters and to identify any deficiencies in current laws, punishments or enforcement efforts.”

Runcie and many School Board members publicly supported the effort. Runcie said he was proud of the efforts his district had made to improve school security and welcomed a review.

“We try to get the facts out, but if you don’t want to listen, I can’t make folks listen,” Runcie said at a town hall on Feb. 25, 2019. ” I welcome an independent review of what this district is doing related to safety and security.”

There was reason for that confidence. Although the Sun Sentinel had identified numerous failures related to the Parkland shooting, none had been identified as criminal in nature.

Many of the problems, from poor security in front of schools to inaccurate reporting of school crimes, were issues statewide and not just in Broward. And the first two interim reports identified nothing specific to Broward schools.

The first public sign that the scope of the grand jury report had broadened came in a Dec. 10, 2020.

The report suggests that the Broward school district’s building department had “hijacked” the $800 million bond program, which has been plagued by delays and mismanagement since voters passed it in 2014.

He accused the building department of delaying projects for years in an apparent effort to secure certain large-scale projects for preferred vendors. It recommended abolishing the department and turning inspections over to county or municipal inspections departments.

But the recommendation was buried in a report that mostly focused on statewide mental health issues and largely went unnoticed by the public.

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The first grand jury’s first major bombshell happened on Jan. 11, 2021.

Tony Hunter, the district’s former chief information officer, was arrested on bid rigging and bribery charges related to a $17 million technology contract. The case is related to the purchase of Recordex Simplicity flat-screen devices from 2015 to 2019.

The district and grand jury began looking at Hunter’s actions after the Sun Sentinel questioned the technology deal and Hunter’s ties to the vendor.

The devices — combining big-screen TVs and touch-screen computers — are designed to make learning more interactive for students. Prosecutors say the district failed to seek competitive bids and Hunter steered the deal to a friend. Hunter, 61, has pleaded not guilty to two second-degree felony counts and denied any wrongdoing.

The most shocking development came three months later, after Runcie was indicted on a perjury charge, and Myrick was indicted on a charge of unlawful disclosure of statewide grand jury proceedings, also a third-degree felony.

After initially suggesting he would stay on as superintendent, Runcie offered to resign instead of going on paid leave pending the outcome of his case, which was supported by the majority of the School Board.

This is a developing story, so check back for updates. Click here to have breaking news alerts sent directly to your inbox.

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