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"Frantic" Tallahassee Battle: School Board Thwarts State Control

When the Florida Senate prepared earlier this week to take direct oversight of the dysfunctional Broward County School Board earlier this week, the board's lobbyist, Georgia Slack, went into overdrive. 

​Slack wrote in an email to board members that she began "frantic lobbying" and engaged the help of Broward state Sen. Nan Rich, the mother of School Board member Laurie Rich Levinson, to persuade the Senate to pull a proposal that would have created a special committee to oversee the School Board and make sure it took corrective actions in light of the scathing statewide grand jury report.

State Sen. Stephen Wise, a Republican from Jacksonville who wrote the proposal, agreed to strike the idea from a Senate bill (SB 1696) on Wednesday after persuasion from Slack, Rich, and Sen. Bill Montford of Tallahassee. 

But Wise warned that the "Broward Board has until January, 2012, to clearly demonstrate that all  appropriate corrective actions have been taken" or a state committee will be created at that time, according to Slack's email to the board.   

Slack wrote that she was instructed by Supt. Jim Notter, who announced his resignation on Tuesday, to do "everything possible" to kill the oversight committee. 

A similar state committee was created in 2004 to oversee the Miami-Dade School Board's construction department and land acquisitions after massive mismanagement was found. Slack dubbed that situation a "nightmare," complaining that the state "injected itself into all aspects of the school district operations making it very difficult for the School Board and Superintendent to lead the District."  

Two questions: 

-- Would the public not welcome state oversight of the School Board at this point? The board has proven to be a disaster and was recently labeled both inept and corrupt by the statewide grand jury, which noted that it had wasted hundreds of millions of dollars, leaving taxpayers $2 billion in debt. It has completely lost public confidence, lacks any hint of competent or honorable leadership, and would seem to need all the help it can get.

-- Is it possible that Notter's resignation was involved as part of the negotiations that led to removing the oversight committee from SB 1696? The timing is curious, as Notter abruptly resigned at the end of a workshop meeting on March 29, the day before Slack sent out the email to board members. 

I've contacted the office of Sen. Wise and am awaiting comment. 

Inside, read Slack's extraordinary email in full. 

Here's Slack's email (the bold print is hers): 

---- Original Message -----
From: Georgia Slack  March 30, 2011 5:23:04 PM
To: Board/Secs 1/11
Cc: James F. Notter Vicki Horton
Attachments: Oversight Language.doc

The Senate, today, proposed adding language to a bill SB 1696 that would have established an Oversight Committee with the responsibility of overseeing the Broward school board's actions to respond to the Grand Jury Report. The Oversight Committee would have been appointed by the Governor, Senate President and House Speaker. It would have no specific date by which it would be disbanded. That would depend upon its own determination that everything had been corrected.

A copy of the proposed  language is attached.

I was alerted  to the language in speaking with the Superintendent and directed to do everything possible to have the language stricken from the proposed bill in order to give the Board some time to voluntarily take the necessary actions.

With the strong assistance of Broward Senator Nan Rich and Leon County Senator Bill Mumford [sic], we managed to convince the proponent of the language, Senator Steven Wise, to remove the language before the bill was voted upon in his committee.  This was accomplished. However, Sen. Wise publicly stated that the Broward Board has until January, 2012, to clearly demonstrate that all  appropriate corrective actions have been taken  If that does not occur, Sen. Wise said he will sponsor and push through legislation establishing the Oversight Committee.

Several years ago Miami-Dade had a legislatively-appointed Oversight Committee whose responsibilities specifically were school construction and land acquisition. It was a nightmare and it took the Miami-Dade Board four years and subsequent legislation to get the Oversight Board repealed.  It was reported the Oversight Board in Miami-Dade did not confine its actions to school construction and land acquisition, but injected itself into all aspects of the school district operations making it very difficult for the School Board and Superintendent to lead the District...

Thanks to some frantic lobbying and the tremendous help of Senators Rich and Mumford, the Oversight Board for Broward has been averted at least for now.  We still do not know what the House may try to do.

The concern now is that, unless the Superintendent and School Board can clearly show by January 2012 that the Jury's recommendations have been addressed, there will be legislation establishing the Oversight Board. Avoiding this is crucial  to the continued ability of the Broward School Board to retain its constitutional authority to make policy decisions for the school district.  

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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

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