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Grand Jury Slams Jennifer Gottlieb's "Beachside Boondoggle"

The Sun-Sentinel obtained some comments from school boarder defending themselves from the findings of the statewide grand jury.  

Said Broward Schools Supt. Jim Notter: "I've built a 37-year career by being passionate about digging through the data, emphasizing accountability and getting things done right."

Sure. Except when he was willfully violating state law to allow the lobbyist and contractors to take over the school district and waste hundreds of millions in taxpayers' money.

Gottlieb "baby" wasted $25 million
Gottlieb "baby" wasted $25 million

There was former school board member and all-around political hack Marty Rubinstein, who said the report smacked of a "political vendetta."

Oh now it makes sense. The members of the statewide grand jury were political plants installed by the board members' political opponents. That's about as reasonable as the idea that the State Attorney's public corruption unit went Stacy Ritter to further the political career of Ari Porth, right?

Funny, the school board members and other corrupt politicians in this town used to claim its critics were rife with conspiracy theories -- now it's the other way around.

Incredibly, the Sentinel also quoted the criminally charged former board member Stephanie Kraft. She complained that the grand jury included Bob Parks' penchant for naming buildings after himself. "Maybe politically that wasn't smart, but why was that even in a grand jury report?" she asked. "Is that corruption? If it is, indict him."

How bizarre is this county when criminally charged and ethically bankrupt school board members like Kraft are attacking statewide grand juries in the daily newspaper for reporting on school board corruption?

These people are never going to get it. The only people who made any sense in the article were new board member Patti Good and board activist Mary Fertig, who praised the report but questioned the recommendation to have an elected superintendent.

Good, in fact, was the only board member to respond to the Sentinel's request for comment, which is pretty outrageous. One who apparently stayed sheltered from the storm was Jennifer Gottlieb.

No wonder -- she was slammed hard in the report, specifically for her pet project, the unnecessary $25 million Beachside Village Montessori school in Hollywood. 

No fewer than five pages of the 51-page report were devoted to what the grand jury called the "Beachside Boondoggle." This was another taxpayers' waste that I wrote about in 2009. Here's how the grand jury led off its slam of school:

The building of what is now known as Beachside Montessori ... is a microcosm of everything that is wrong with the Board and District: interference by the Board in the building of projects, favoritism in the selecting' or keeping of contractors, rushing projects to contract without complete plans, cost overruns, wasting tax dollars on unnecessary and unjustified projects, unilateral decision making by individual Board members, strong arming local neighborhoods, failure to have any meaningful oversight or discussion as a Board regarding the need for the school, complete lack of accountability, and failure to adhere to Board policy. ... The process was not open and transparent and the Board engaged in underhanded tactics to build this and other schools at a time when it knew the District had an excess of capacity.

And you ain't seen nothing yet. Inside read what they said about Gottlieb's role in the process.

Here it is. The "particular Board member," is, of course Gottlieb.

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The reality of what happened, as told to us by a myriad of witnesses, is that after 2006 Beachside became a particular Board member's "baby". According to witnesses it is well known to virtually all District employees that most, if not all, Board members have pet projects that it's best not to interfere with, no matter how wasteful or unjustifiable the project may appear to be.

This particular Board member argued the case for Beachside against the number crunchers in the Boundaries department When former Deputy Superintendent Michael Garretson tried to cancel the project in June of 2008, it was this same Board member who, in the presence of Mr. Garretson and the PM, stated emphatically that the school would be built and it would be built with that contractor.

It was the same Board member who decreed that the school would be changed to a K-8, necessitating delays, design changes, and driving up the costs. It was this Board member who decided unilaterally that it would be a Montessori school. As the process neared completion, it was this same Board member who attended a meeting of parents interested in sending their children to Beachside, a meeting held not at a school building or other public building, but rather at a private residence, a meeting she attended in her official capacity even though it was not publicized and attendance was by invitation only.

Beachside was slated to be built partly on a City of Hollywood park, an extremely controversial decision amongst some Hollywood residents. The city contributed the land based on Board plans for an elementary school. The change to a K-8 caught both the city and residents off guard. This change required the City to ratify changes to the existing contract between the City and Board. When opposition to the change arose in Hollywood, due to the impact on park operating hours, it was this Board member who attended the city commission meeting and made a thinly veiled threat to have the park closed even longer if the city did not agree to the changes.

According to the witnesses and documents provided to us, as early as 2006 virtually everyone
in Facilities up to and including the Deputy Superintendent recognized that it was a waste of money to pay for a new school building in that area. We question where the senior leadership ofthe district was during this process. Why was there no effort by the District to seize back control ofthe construction program, or to at least insist that the decision be made by the Board as a whole? Had there been a full public debate perhaps all ofthe issues could have been addressed. One thing that might have been done was to explore the option of changing the boundaries. Another might be emptying out one of the existing schools and renovating it to accommodate the Montessori concept. That would have avoided destroying a local park, displacing residents, saved millions in land acquisition and millions more in
construction. Perhaps the school could have been located in an area of overcrowding out west.

Apparently the people behind Beachside weren't interested in other ideas or public debate.
In our view the inaction of both the Board and the District leadership allowing an individual
Board member to unilaterally shove through a "pet project" was a gross dereliction of duty on their parts. This "process" doesn't sit well with us and we doubt it will sit well with the taxpayers who in the end had to pay over $25 million for an unnecessary school building.


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