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FT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami/AP) – Broward County’s School Board is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to fire Superintendent Robert Runcie.
The agenda item to terminate his contract for cause is set for 11:15 a.m. Tuesday.
Newly elected Board member Lori Alhadeff, whose 14-year-old daughter Alyssa died in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, is pushing to have Runcie dismissed, saying he “has a history of leadership failures.”
Monday during a break after a Broward School Board workshop meeting on school resource officers, Alhadeff said, “I’m hopeful the board decides to fire Runcie. This is a big decision. I will bring out all the reasons why.”
Alhadeff’s agenda item listed five reasons, she believes, Runcie should be fired.
One being failures from security, safety, and mental health needs uncovered from the Parkland shooting. Next, she said Runcie failed to property execute the $800 million general obligation fund and overall capital program. She also believes Runcie had issues enforcing Exceptional Student Education (ESE) rules and policies. Fourth, the board member wrote Runcie failed to start an independent Office of Inspector General. Lastly, the board member said Runcie failed to complete timely annual evaluations for senior staff.
Alhadeff used evidence from 2013 when Runcie gave a list of reasons he didn’t support a proposal for a special taxing district to oversee safety. Runcie was concerned over losing control. He also wrote he was looking into hardening schools already and increasing law enforcement presence at schools. But a 2018 MSD Safety Commission Findings Report stated there was one SRO to cover 3,300 students at Stoneman Douglas and there were safety issues, like an inadequate place for students to hide during an active shooter situation.
His mixed reviews from school board members at the end of last year are included along with the minimal progress on rehabilitation projects to various schools funded by a bond issue that passed in 2014.
Alhadeff, who put the termination measure on the board’s agenda, has the support of other families of the 14 students and three staff members killed.
However, it doesn’t appear she has enough support among the nine school board members. A majority say he has improved the district’s academic standing since his hiring in 2011 and the shooting wasn’t caused by his policies. The district is the nation’s sixth-largest with 327 schools and 270,000 students.
The state gave Broward a “B” in its latest district grades, noting that it has a graduation rate of 84 percent, a 10 percentage point increase over five years. The district says it has increased the number of security officers and cameras and taken other security measures districtwide since the shooting.
Runcie’s contract runs through June 2023.Before the shooting, however, crimes, bullying, and other school problems were routinely under-reported by Stoneman Douglas and other district schools and few did voluntary security assessments.
Stoneman Douglas reported zero incidents of bullying among its 3,200 students between 2014 and 2017 and three incidents of vandalism, for example.
At a recent community meeting, Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime died in the shooting, told Runcie, “I can’t help but blame you. My daughter is dead and this community is coming apart.”
Runcie responded, “I know that no matter what we keep doing, I’ll keep hearing, ‘It’s not enough,’ and I know why I hear that, because I can’t bring your daughter back.”
Alhadeff has clashed with Runcie since her election last year. She wanted to hire a college instructor and accountant who is a Runcie critic to be her secretary, each board member is given one, but the superintendent rejected her pick. He said the woman didn’t have the required secretarial experience, although other board secretaries don’t either.
The board attorney blocked Alhadeff’s “no” vote on Runcie’s appointment of a new district security chief, saying Alhadeff’s stated reasons, including that she didn’t believe he had been fully vetted or other qualified candidates considered, were insufficient.”Mr. Runcie is trying to control the conversation,” said Alhadeff, who represents the Parkland-area district that includes the school.
Runcie told the recent community meeting, “Leadership is not, in my view, about cutting and running when it gets really tough. It’s my responsibility given the fact that (the shooting) occurred under my watch as superintendent. I need to fix it.” Runcie, who is black, has strong support among African-Americans, who are 40 percent of the district’s enrollment.
Board member Rosalind Osgood told CBSMiami, “When I got elected I had 12 ‘F’ schools in my district. Now, I don’t have any.
There was a recent push among victims’ families for Gov. Ron DeSantis to remove Runcie as he did Broward Sheriff Scott Israel in January, but the new Republican governor can’t suspend appointed officials.
Instead, DeSantis persuaded the state Supreme Court to approve a grand jury investigation into school districts’ security spending and policies statewide. The panel will be based in Broward.
Runcie’s critics hope it will examine Broward’s Promise Program, a student disciplinary system he instituted. Under Promise, students who commit petty vandalism, theft, harassment or other minor crimes or who fight are referred to an off-campus site for up to 10 days instead of the courts. They are assessed, given a course of treatment, attend classes and receive counseling.
Critics say Promise created a lenient atmosphere that allowed shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz to briefly attend Stoneman Douglas a year before the massacre despite a history of fights, threats and behavioral problems. He was placed in the program in middle school after breaking a bathroom faucet, but records are unclear if he completed the requirements.
The district says while the program might require some changes, it is a success. Out of 2,000 students referred in an average year, 90 percent never re-offend and less than 1 percent re-offends three times, it says.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)