Readers, I’m going to change the writing style because there’s so much to say and you won’t want to be scrolling pages forever, so here goes…
As much as I slam the grand jury report as a fraud, it did get some things right. For almost ten years before I became a School Board member, the district had its poor reputation. Poor quality, chronically late construction, bad or incompetent contractors, critical overcrowding and so much more.
For example, my eldest daughter was scheduled to be in the first class to use the ‘new’ kindergarten wing of Banyan Elementary. She couldn’t. The building sat with construction issues, incomplete for two years before it was finally opened. Without air conditioning, I might add. That took another week. My youngest daughter was the first to use it instead, but just barely.
Schools were being constructed with such poor quality materials that quite literally, the facades were crumbling and falling off before the buildings were two years old. That was actually the case for Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. And the facades weren’t falling off in small pieces, but in large chunks, endangering students while on campus. The Board finally held a meeting at the school in front of hundreds of angry parents and publicly fired the contractor, Church and Tower. Schools such as Riverside Elementary were constructed to standards that were not Florida approved leading to severe mold and mildew problems and years of community angst. Meanwhile building maintenance was poor enough that portable classrooms were also invaded by mold and mildew.
Growth planning was so poor that elementary schools built for 650 were packed to the rafters with 1,100 – 1,200 students. Middles and high schools were even worse. As a member of a Tamarac Elementary planning committee, we ran into roadblocks on the need for new schools in the area. Boundaries told us there was simply no need. We took them on a tour of new construction in the local TAZ and they finally woke up and figured out the real numbers. Needless to say that the only chosen solution at the time was to add portable classrooms, some already over the state’s limit of 20 years old. And adding them took up playground and athletic spaces robbing children of needed exercise. Tamarac Elementary had no more room.
Technology planning was equally as bad. The school system had just gone through a major upgrade bringing 19th century classrooms into the 20th century. Unfortunately, that was right after we crossed into the 21st century. Four computers per classroom. Portable classrooms with no technology or phones at all.
I considered the idea of running for the Board back in 1998 when the district School Board member actually had the audacity to defend the idea that school library bookshelves were half empty. But I backed his opponent and cost him enough votes to go down to defeat.
Yet the insults to the public sensibility kept right on coming. By now the district was under the administration of a new Superintendent. By 2002 the stories of staff overpayments were rampant in the press with everybody pointing fingers at the ‘new’ HRMS (Human Resource Management Software) package. Only the district was making excuses, not providing solutions. That’s when I chose to run, especially since my district seat was being vacated. Month after month, more stories, more excuses, more finger pointing. Now, up to $5 million in overpayments, I promised to fix it.
HRMS overpayments was my first project. I asked Ben Leong to investigate and come up with solutions. He finally had the support of a Board member who knew how to address problems. Within two weeks, he and his staff came up with a presentation that was shocking. HRMS had been totally kludged (look it up.) It took nine (count ’em) screens to track a single overpayment. Programmed correctly it could have been done in one or maybe two. And there were six full time employees that did nothing but track them. But that was only one small piece of the problem. The overpayments were simply a result of poor procedure. Nothing else. No elegant solution was needed immediately. What we found was simply incredible. When HRMS was placed on line, the payroll system was decentralized. Rather than time sheets being sent to payroll, data entry was to be performed at the local office (school, facility, et. al.) Only it wasn’t being updated in a timely basis. Sometimes, changes took weeks and months to be entered. When an employee left, that change was never made, either resulting in continuance of salary sometimes for months on end.
Within one day of issuing our findings, Dr. Till sent a memo to all department heads stating that if payroll wasn’t updated in a timely fashion, the overages would come out of their budgets. Overpayments stopped immediately.
The real question was “why was this allowed to continue for almost a year?”
Answer: Complete and total mismanagement.
There’s plenty more, but I’ll stop here and suggest you re-read the portions of the grand jury report that talk about the misfeasance, malfeasance and non-feasance with a fresh perspective.
The School Board at those times had no idea how to deal with such problems and depended on the Superintendent to do the job. He didn’t. Neither did his successor. The Board was also lax in holding the Superintendent’s feet to the fire. That includes my Board, too. It’s up to you to change the public’s view (and expectations) of the school district with real, common sense solutions. Not just promotional hype.
I have faith.