By Chris Joseph
By Chris Joseph
By Allie Conti
By Chuck Strouse
By Chris Joseph
By Chris Joseph
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
The next transition wouldn't be so smooth.
According to several people connected to the school, Cowgill began to face trouble in 2010. Some of the most powerful among the 24 members of the board of trustees — including Marc Bell, the multimillionaire owner of Penthouse and AdultFriendFinder.com — sent their children to school at Pine Crest's Boca campus.
Cowgill, on the other hand, was a product of the Fort Lauderdale campus. She had joined the school before it acquired Boca Raton Academy in 1987. As the satellite campus grew, there was pressure from Boca parents for more representation in the administrative ranks.
"Some Boca parents that were on the board [wanted to] get rid of [Cowgill] so they could put somebody in as basically their puppet," says one former administrative employee, echoing a theory voiced by several parents who spoke to New Times. "Some of the trustees and parents that had a lot of money in Boca wanted academic requirements to be reduced, because they were scared that their kids wouldn't be able to get into the [Fort Lauderdale] high school."
Whatever the reasons they discussed behind closed doors, the board ushered Cowgill out of the president's office at the end of the 2009-10 school year. The board said in a prepared statement that this was "the product of an established succession plan with which... Cowgill had assisted several years ago."
Cowgill is still working with the school as a guidance counselor and did not reply to requests for comment. But multiple sources say she left the position much more quickly than expected.
To replace her, the board needed someone who was both a distinguished educator and a capable figurehead for the school — as well as a savvy fundraiser.
The new president would need to deal with some tricky finances. For all its prestige, Pine Crest faced a growing fiscal crisis at the start of 2011. Despite the five-digit tuition, the school was more than $80 million in debt.
The former employee estimates that more than $40 million of that was related to new construction on both campuses. He says that Pozzuoli was chair of the finance committee and that "the entire board [was] responsible for taking on debt" when it decided to move forward with the construction projects. But despite the shiny new facilities this investment produced, he says, "they didn't add any more classrooms, so [the construction] is not going to bring in any more revenue."
The board hired one of the best-known recruiting firms in the country, Heidrick and Struggles, to find a new president. The man at the helm of the search, according to people close to the process, was a principal with the firm named George Conway, a white-haired former chaplain, teacher, and headmaster. Of the three final presidential candidates Conway brought to campus, he pushed one in particular, says the administrative employee.
Hank Battle was headmaster at Forsyth Country Day School in North Carolina, where in 12 years he had grown the full-time student body from around 600 to 900 and increased revenue through additional à la carte schooling programs. His most visible achievement at Forsyth was adding the Johnson Academic Center, which offers tutoring.
This was one mechanism behind Forsyth's increase in student population: The admissions department relaxed its standards somewhat for applicants with family members already at the school. The school stood to benefit from the new students' tuition dollars, and if the students were academically lagging, they could receive tutoring at the center. No longer a stringent requirement for admissions, academic advantage could be offered for a fee.
"It was certainly a great recruiting tool" for families at the school, says David Martin, chair of Forsyth's board of trustees. "I could say, 'Look, I can take care of all your children regardless of their academic abilities. Don't worry about academics.' "
Battle also oversaw a reputed tenfold growth in Forsyth's endowment — money that's invested to produce revenue through interest payments every year — through fundraising and other measures.
Battle's accomplishments must have impressed the Pine Crest board. Although Pine Crest is a nonprofit organization like most prep schools, at least two board members have interest in for-profit education. Andy Rosen is CEO of Kaplan Inc., a $2.6 billion test-prep and tutoring outfit. And Jonathan Hage, another board member, owns a company that manages a string of charter schools across Florida under the Charter Schools USA banner as well as numerous limited-liability corporations with names like "Fishin' 4 Schools." Hage's corporations list fellow board member Pozzuoli as their registered legal agent.
Moreover, says the administrative worker, "The Boca trustees thought Hank was a guy from whom they could get anything they wanted."
Conway, Battle, and the board sealed the deal. Battle resigned from his position at Forsyth, sending the school into an accelerated search for a new headmaster. He left behind his wife and children on a quiet, tree-lined street across from a country club and moved to Florida, where lavish rewards awaited him.
Back in 2007, Battle made news in a Wall Street Journal article called "Prep-School Payday" for being paid "more than $300,000 in salary and bonuses" at Forsyth.
His new, exorbitant contract at Pine Crest went far beyond that. It netted him just under a million bucks a year and guaranteed five years of pay, according to the former employee. And that was just the base salary.
"Knight may be the most recent alumnus bound for greatness, but he's not the only one. Wayne Huizenga, the Waste Management magnate and chief Fort Lauderdale benefactor, went to Pine Crest. So did Frasier's Kelsey Grammer and avant-garde jazz musician John Medeski."
Don't forget Ken Barrington. The star of Love in the Wild II (who was also blessed with the sexy smooth voice of Alan Alda).