A clause of the contract allowed Battle yearly bonuses tied to the amount of money he brought in through fundraising, the person says.

This practice would violate the ethical recommendations of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), a body that provides guidelines for school fundraising. In its recommendations, CASE advises that bonuses "should... not be expressed as a percentage of individual gifts or aggregate giving, since doing so would constitute a commission... [which] will encourage inappropriate conduct by fundraisers anxious to secure gifts at any cost."

Board member Pozzuoli would not discuss Battle's salary, but he does concede that the school also agreed to provide Battle with a loan to buy a home in South Florida. His eventual choice? A 2,000-square-foot condominium on the 19th floor of the Ritz-Carlton right on Fort Lauderdale Beach (David Stern, the foreclosure lawyer, owns a penthouse on the 24th floor). A copy of a contract addendum obtained by New Times shows that Battle was prepared to pay $1.3 million for the condo and an additional $185,000 in remodeling fees. The addendum does not show whether the deal went through, but Battle told several people who spoke to New Times that he was living at the Ritz, and public records list the property as his residence through May of this year.

From the 2011 Pine Crest yearbook: Hank Battle poses with students; his associate David Bowman came with him to serve as Pine Crest's vice president of operations.
Pine Crest School/2011 Yearbook
From the 2011 Pine Crest yearbook: Hank Battle poses with students; his associate David Bowman came with him to serve as Pine Crest's vice president of operations.
Fort Lauderdale lawyer William Amlong filed age-bias charges against the school.
Michael McElroy
Fort Lauderdale lawyer William Amlong filed age-bias charges against the school.

In January, Battle established a Florida limited-liability corporation called HMB Property Enterprises. Pozzuoli, who is listed as the company's legal contact, says that Battle intended the company to be an investment vehicle to purchase residential property.

While Battle drank from the school's largesse, he and his team began to mull deep cuts to the school's current staff. Rumors began to circulate that longtime teachers wouldn't have their contracts renewed. "The process was as opaque as anything could be," says Barbara Grosz, a biology teacher who retired voluntarily this year, "so everything [we knew] was rumor."

Several parents and a faculty member say that Battle recruited a "leadership group" of high school students who met with him about once a week. Grosz says he also convened an early-morning class in which he spoke candidly with students. Teachers heard that he used students' opinions of them to make decisions on whose contracts would be renewed.

"He was speaking to students and not to teachers at all," says Grosz. "Many of us never physically saw him. I don't think I ran across him on campus one time."

"We were completely in the dark," says another teacher. "We had students coming up to teachers, putting arms around them and saying, 'Don't worry, I'll put in a good word for you.' "

Among the students, Battle was a frequent presence. One female high school student says, "Mr. Battle was always walking around campus. A lot of us met him." At first, she says, "he seemed like the coolest guy ever." He treated students as peers and rescinded a recent change to the dress code that had prevented girls from wearing skirts.

She recalls that in meetings with Battle, including one night when he had dinner with her athletic team, he would ask kids to name teachers "who are great, and who aren't great."

Kids were recruited not only to provide feedback but to meet with new prospective faculty members. Grosz remembers overhearing one of her students say before class, "It's really weird when you're asked to escort someone around campus and you know that eventually you're going to run into the [teacher] he's going to replace."

One evening, the high school student was attending a home basketball game with a few of her friends when Battle approached her. "He was standing in the student section," she says. "He knew my and all my friends' names, but he didn't know who the teachers were. He made me point my finger at the teachers [in the crowd] and tell him their names."

At one point during the game, the student says, her father called her cell phone. "Let me answer," said Battle, taking the phone from her.

She remembers Battle telling her father, "You have an excellent daughter."

Before he left, she says, Battle made a proposal to the group of students: How would they like to go to Washington, D.C., with him to attend the conference of the National Association of Independent Schools?

"I want you kids to come and show them how great you are," the student remembered Battle saying. "We'll ride in a limo, eat in nice restaurants." They would leave the following Monday.

The girl's mother was furious: "I marched into [Battle's] office and said, 'How dare you ask my kids to go on a trip without asking me?' " she says now.

She did not give her daughter permission to go.


Tension among the teachers increased throughout the spring. Teachers at Pine Crest work on one-year contracts that need to be renewed each year if they are to keep their jobs. This year, they were told that no contracts for the following year would be issued until April 1 — too late for them to comfortably apply for jobs at other schools.

"During that February period, a lot of us were looking for jobs" in advance of the decisions, says one teacher.

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2 comments
SteelPanther
SteelPanther

"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).  

SteelPanther
SteelPanther

And Scott Wagner.  Uncle Luke said mean things to him on twitter.

 
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