Governor DeSantis Suspends Four Broward School Board Members

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis asked a grand jury on Friday afternoon to remove four Broward school board members after a scathing report accusing them of “engaging in acts of incompetence and dereliction of duty.” “.

The revocations are effective immediately for the four serving members: Patricia Good, Donna Korn, Laurie Rich Levinson and Ann Murray. School board members were notified of their termination by email on Friday. None of the four members could be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

There was a fifth member who was recommended for removal but is no longer on the school board: Rosalind Osgood, who resigned in March to successfully run for State Senate.

In announcing the suspensions, DeSantis said, “These are inexcusable actions on the part of school board members that have shown a tendency to embolden unacceptable behavior, including fraud and mismanagement, throughout the district.”

The 122 pages grand jury the report details mismanagement at Broward schools after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland in 2018. The grand jury report was completed in April 2021, but was made public over a year later , August 19.

“We hope this suspension brings the community of Parkland another step towards justice,” he said. “This action is in the best interests of Broward County residents and students and all citizens of Florida.”

The reaction to the termination was quick: Max Schachter, whose son, Alex, was killed in the Parkland shooting, saw the suspension of school board members as “revenge”. “Karma can fight back!” he tweeted, thanking the governor.

Tony Montalto’s daughter, Gina, was also among the 17 people murdered. He said he disagreed with school board members who called it political, especially when school board races are nonpartisan.

“They failed to deal with the superintendent, they failed in their duty, they failed all the citizens of Broward County, and especially our children,” he said.

Still, “it’s hard to feel righteous when we’ve lost our beautiful Gina,” he said.

Andy Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was killed, said the governor remains personally committed to holding government officials accountable for the Parkland tragedy.

“It meant everything to me,” he said.

Ryan Petty, whose daughter Alaina was killed, said the governor had done the right thing.

“Broward students deserve to go to school in a safe environment,” he said. “There is no excuse for the state of many schools and the lack of progress on the link.”

But the governor’s action drew condemnation from the Broward Teachers Union. President Anna Fusco said it was “deplorable to put politics ahead of students”.

“I do not support the removal of elected officials, especially those who have committed no crime,” she said. “It’s politics about people, that’s what it is in a nutshell.

“The SOB that pulled the trigger, that animal that’s sitting in jail, he’s the one in charge of Parkland. He’s the person to blame.

The board members were part of a majority on the school board that supported former Superintendent of Broward Schools, Robert Runcie. The grand jury indicted Runcie for perjury in April 2021, and much of the report is highly critical of his leadership. Runcie resigned in August 2021.

Among the report’s findings and allegations:

  • Runcie and the school board, “by fraud and deceit,” mismanaged an $800 million bond referendum, failing to renovate schools and leaving students “in decrepit, moldy, unsafe buildings.”
  • The school district delayed installing fire alarms with 40-second delays recommended by a former fire chief that could have prevented a fatal evacuation during the Parkland shooting.
  • The Broward Workshop business group, whose members included Runcie, exerted influence on school board members to keep Runcie in power, despite the district’s troubles.
  • Runcie frequently lied to the board and the public.
  • The school district has shown “an almost fanatical willingness” to manage its image and “feels at war with local media,” including the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

A week ago, Levinson called the grand jury report “political ax work.”

Good called it “unfortunate that this grand jury process has been militarized and politicized in a way that retaliates against board members who disagree with the governor’s views.”

And Korn said she “looks forward to reviewing this information and reassuring our community that I have always put our students first.”

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DeSantis immediately named four replacements to the Broward County School Board:

  • Torey Alstona county commissioner who was appointed to an empty seat on the commission, replaces Good until November 2024.
  • Manuel “Nandy” A. Serrano, Florida Sports Foundation board member, CEO and founder of Clubhouse Private Wealth, replaces Levinson.
  • Ryan Reiterformer president of the Broward Young Republicans, veteran of the US Marine Corps and director of government relations for Kaufman Lynn Construction, replaces Murray.
  • Kevin Tynanlawyer and former Chairman of the Republican Party of Broward, replaces Korn. In 2009, he was nominated by Republican Governor Charlie Crist to replace suspended School board member Beverly Gallagher.

With the addition of the four new members, the majority of the Broward School Board is now appointed by the Governor of Florida; Daniel Foganholi was appointed by Governor Ron DeSantis in late April to fill Osgood’s vacant seat on the Broward County School Board.

DeSantis asked the Supreme Court to summon the grand jury in 2019 to focus primarily on statewide safety and security issues in the wake of the Parkland tragedy, though the focus shifted to corruption within the Broward School District.

At least part of the report’s delay was the result of calls from some school board members. Some members fought for it to be redacted or erased. When a county judge denied the claims, they tried to get an appeals court to keep their names out. The Court of Appeal of the 4th arrondissement twice rejected their appeals this summer, the last time on July 27. They again appealed to the state Supreme Court, which declined to hear it.

This is a developing story, so check back for updates. Click here to receive news alerts straight to your inbox.

Writer Scott Travis contributed to this news article.

Lisa J. Huriash can be reached at lhuriash@sunsentinel.com or 954-572-2008. Follow on Twitter @LisaHuriash

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