Broward schools ask for $800 million bond referendum

Broward County School Board members say they've helped repair the district's damaged reputation, so now they want taxpayers to help fix its severely damaged schools.

The board voted unanimously Tuesday to ask voters in November to approve a 30-year, $800 million bond referendum. The money would be used to improve or replace decaying facilities and outdated technology. It would cost property owners an average of $50 a year, Superintendent Robert Runcie said

At least 30 schools in the district have roofs that needs to be repaired and some have buildings or portables that have been condemned.

"Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and do the right thing," board member Ann Murray said. "This is a very important issue, and the only way to get true resolution is to put it back in the voter's hands."


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The bond funding would only cover a third of the district's $2 billion in capital needs, Runcie said. The district is still determining which projects would get funded.

"We want to be sensitive to the fact that we don't want to overburden taxpayers with the volume of work," he said. "We want to deliver on promises and come back in the future as necessary to make additional investments."

Northeast High has frequent problems with leaking roofs and soggy tiles. A teacher at Oakland Park Elementary complained Tuesday that broken air conditioning at his school has created mold problems, which led to him getting ill.

Collins Elementary in Dania Beach has computers with keys missing on their keyboards, said activist Mary Fertig, who has been tracking poor conditions at schools. Coconut Creek High has hallways with no ceiling tiles, and several schools have cafeterias that are so small students must eat outside on picnic tables.

Coral Glades High was built in 2004 and is still waiting on an auditorium.

In recent years, the school district was slammed by audits and a grand jury for corruption and mismanagement. Two School Board members were arrested after law enforcement said they personally benefited from School Board contracts.

But most administrators and School Board members linked to that corruption have been replaced, and Runcie said he has taken steps to improve procedures for construction and other contracts.

"This is a different day. We've made substantial reforms," Runcie said.

There have also been complaints of broken promises from communities whose schools were slated to be renovated or rebuilt years ago but never were. Among them are Northside Elementary and Bennett Elementary in Fort Lauderdale and Tedder Elementary in Pompano Beach.

"We've asked our legislators time and time again for additional capital dollars, and the message from the Legislature is if you want to have an initiative, it needs to be on the local level," Board Chairwoman Patti Good said.

The district hasn't done any polling to gauge taxpay support for a referendum. Fertig told board members that it may be a tough decision for some voters.

"None of us want to see a scenario where more dollars are wasted. Yet no one wants to see children sitting in classrooms with leaking roofs," she said. "The safe course is to do nothing, but if you do nothing, your schools will decline."

stravis@tribune.com or 561-243-6637 or 954-425-1421