Grand Jury Report: School Board Blew Hundreds of Millions of Taxpayers Dollars While In Lobbyists' Pocket

Well, it's finally official.

The Broward County School Board wasted hundreds of millions of your dollars while doing the bidding of a select group of contractors and lobbyists. You've been reading about that here for the past five years. Now the statewide grand jury has found the same thing.  

Notter with Gottlieb
Notter with Gottlieb

The final grand jury report was released last night (yes, that means they aren't going to issue indictments). To get an idea of its tone, understand that it stated flatly that were it not for a constitutional mandate to have a school board, "our first and foremost recommendation would have been to abolish the Broward County School Board altogether."

Another excerpt from the report:  

The Board has authorized the spending of billions over the last 10 years and has saddled Broward taxpayers with $2 billion in long term debt, and yet we have thousands of empty seats at under enrolled schools in the eastern portion ofthe county and critically overcrowded schools in the western part of the county and no concrete plans to address the problem. We find that the current situation is a direct result of the Board's lack of vision, foresight, planning and leadership as well as a deliberate attempt to withhold information in order to keep building unnecessary space. A great deal oftaxpayer money spent on this construction has been wasted as the direct result of the Board's interference and self dealing as well as a result of their failure to engage in any meaningful oversight of the District's building activities.

Evidence of the "deliberate attempt" to build unnecessary schools comes in the form of the Supt. Jim Notter and the board as they engaged in a school-building frenzy and failed to conduct state-mandated surveys that would have showed the new construction wasn't needed. It was simply a premeditated ransacking of the public coffers. From the grand jury report: "This was in our view driven mostly out of a desire to benefit contractors and the political fortunes of

Board members. The result of this effort is an abundance of empty classrooms, mostly in the east, $2 billion in debt and critically overcrowded schools in the western part of the county."

If all of this sounds familiar, it's because you read about it here in 2009. I heard a lot of excuses for the board's malfeasance after that piece was published, and so did the grand jury, which wrote, "We have heard the explanations... and reject them as not credible; they are excuses and bad ones at that."

Derelicts. Thankfully, several of the School Board members responsible for this debacle are out of office. One is in federal prison, one (Stephanie Kraft) is facing state charges, Bob Parks (whose high jinks are mentioned in the report) bowed out of office, and Phyllis Hope was defeated at the polls.

Some who were deeply complicit in this monumental theft of public funds -- including Maureen Dinnen and Jennifer Gottlieb -- are still up on the dais, however. And somehow Supt. Jim Notter has not only escaped criminal charges for his malfeasance but is still sitting in power. This report should lead to his immediate resignation.

The real problem, though, is that the lobbyists and contractors that steered this massive public fraud are still lurking in the background, waiting for a new set of puppets to come around with the help of their campaign money.

More on that issue, the report, and the worth of this grand jury coming soon.

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