Broward School Board Blows $1.5 Million, Has No Money

Back in 2007, the wizards at the Broward County School District decided to build classroom additions at several schools that clearly didn't need them. The cost: $18,512,769.

And, of course, the elected members of the board approved it without blinking an eye.

There was no good reason to build the 66 new classrooms planned. None of the schools up for expansion -- Collins, Davie, Sunshine, West Hollywood elementaries and Driftwood Middle -- was overcrowded, and the number of students had been in decline since 2004, with projections calling for more population loss to the area.

Even the district's own projections showed that the schools, after construction, would create 748 empty seats.

In other words, the idea was sheer

lunacy from its inception, but it was approved by the board, and the district handed out a contract for the job to one of its favorites, Moss & Associates, the contract for nearly $18.5 million.

Fortunately, the project didn't get going in full swing. The state cracked down on the board to justify its construction plans and, of course, it couldn't. This year, the board is slowly coming to the realization that the district is close to bankrupt, as its budget has been slashed and it's paying hundreds of millions of dollars each year to service the $2 billion debt it accrued during its foolish building frenzy that has left the district with about 35,000 empty seats. For perspective, that's about the size of the entire Oklahoma City school district sitting empty.

The district realized it had to stop the project and the board voted to terminate the contract in April. But it didn't come cheap. Moss is has gotten "management fees" in the amount of $1.5 million. That's $1.5 million gone because some greedy crackpot at the board came up with a stupid idea.

To put that in perspective, consider that $1.5 million could fund 25 teachers' salaries for a school year. Check that: Could have saved 25 jobs out of dozens who are losing them.

Ain't that a kick in the head?

As for the budget crisis, school construction chief Mike Garretson -- or, as I refer to him, the scapegoat-in-waiting -- sounded a decisively negative note at the project managers' meeting last week. I got a hold of the minutes. Here's Item 12:

Budget Slow Down: Mike Garretson informed staff that because we did not have any reserve that projects would be slow through the fall until we get through hurricane season to make sure we have funding if a storm hits.

That long string of prepositional phrases basically means that the School Board is broke, has nothing in the bank in the form of reserves, and that necessary projects -- like new roofs, etc. -- have been put on hold until we know that disaster, in the form of a hurricane, won't strike us.

AKA, bad news is getting worse.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman