Gov. DeSantis removes and replaces four BCPS school board members following release of a 2021 grand jury report

The+four+new+Broward+School+Board+members%2C+appointed+by+Gov.+DeSantis+after+suspending+four+sitting+board+members%3A+From+left%2C+Kevin+Tynan%2C+Ryan+Reiter%2C+Torey+Alston+and+Manuel+Nandy+Serrano.

Tribune News Service

The four new Broward School Board members, appointed by Gov. DeSantis after suspending four sitting board members: From left, Kevin Tynan, Ryan Reiter, Torey Alston and Manuel Nandy Serrano.

Brynn Schwartz, Senior Politics Editor

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis removed and replaced four BCPS school board members, following the release of a 2021 grand jury report and their subsequent recommendation to remove the board members for mismanagement and general failure in their duties as board members.
The grand jury singled out five members of the school board: Patricia Good, Donna Korn, Ann Murray, Rosalind Osgood and Laurie Rich Levinson, all “[Former Superintendent Robert] Runcie-friendly Board members.” Osgood resigned in March 2022 to run for the Florida Senate.

School Board Members Nora Rupert, Lori Alhadeff, Sarah Leonardi and Deborah Hixon did not participate “in the misdeeds of their peers,” as they fought against Runcie’s actions or were not on the board at the time.

In a controversial move, DeSantis appointed Torey Alston, former the chief of staff for the Florida Department of Transportation, Manuel A. Serrano, a board member for the Florida Sports Foundation, Ryan Reiter, a veteran who formerly worked as a government services manager for the Broward County Children Services Council, and Kevin Tynan, who was appointed to the school board in 2009, on Aug. 26 in place of the removed members.

Though not much is known about his selections, some Broward Democrats feel that DeSantis overturned the will of voters, since Broward is a typically Democratic-leaning county and all four of his appointees are registered Republicans. They see replacing the school board members with people that align with his political views as a politically motivated action, rather than an action appropriate to the situation.

All four new school board members were sworn in on Aug. 30. Korn was already scheduled to compete in a runoff election, as her term was up and nearly tied with Center for Human Capital Innovation CEO Allen Zeman. After the runoff is complete in November, Serrano, Reiter and Tynan will be replaced. Alston has replaced Good for the remainder of her term, which is two years, and currently sits as chair of the BCPS school board.

In 2019, the jury was asked to investigate four issues regarding statewide school safety, following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018 that left 17 dead. Specifically, the jury examined if a failure to follow mandates created by school safety laws put students and staff at risk and whether any governmental body committed fraud or deceit by knowingly mishandling state funds that were intended for the implementation of specific safety measures.

The jury also examined whether school officials have in the past or are actively violating state law by “systemically underreporting incidents of criminal activity to the Department of Education.”

The jury report found that the BCPS school board has not properly used the SMART program, which was an $800 million taxpayer-passed bond intended to be invested in safety, music, the arts, athletics, renovations and technology. Findings from the report said Runcie had mismanaged the funds “through deceit, malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty and incompetence.”

The grand jury primarily focused the report on the “safety” and “renovations” aspects of the program, citing the fact that the failures in other areas were not “of nearly the same magnitude.” The report stated that, to this day, BCPS students continue to be educated in “unsafe, aging, decrepit, moldy buildings that were supposed to have been renovated years ago.”

“How [did] we get to the point where it became about the people in the K.C. Wright building and not the kids in the classroom and the teachers in the classroom?” an unnamed witness quoted in the grand jury report asked.

The jury’s report states that BCPS failed to plan for any issues they may run into with the SMART Program, which they asserted was not for a lack of knowledge or awareness.

They also claim BCPS failed to lead and inform the public and the school board of any negative information about the SMART Program, and were ineffective in holding those responsible accountable.

The jury targeted other “lies” to the public, including how Runcie lied after the MSD shooting by saying the shooter had never been involved with the PROMISE Program, a BCPS initiative serving as an alternative to juvenile detention for students that committed nonviolent infractions.

The jury also found that the fire alarm at MSD was known, since 2014, to need upgrading which was when BCPS first requested the $800 million in bond money for the SMART Program. The specific upgrades were intended to ensure that the alarms would be installed with a 40-second delay, allowing administrators to discern whether the alarm was genuine or caused by some other event. The upgrade was considered low-priority for BCPS.

The absence of that feature led students at MSD on Feb. 14, 2018 to believe the fire alarm was genuine, ultimately putting them in danger when they exited their classrooms in the midst of the shooting. Despite this, the jury found that several schools in Broward County still have not implemented the new fire alarm feature.

“Broward County Public Schools is a school district full of hard-working employees, bright and engaged teachers and 260,000 students who deserve the best from our community,” the grand jury report said. “We owe it to the teachers and students to install leaders that will root out the long-time employees who have been corrupted by the culture of [BCPS].”

This story was originally published in the October 2022 Eagle Eye print edition.