Who's in Charge Here?

Inside the Broward Kremlin

A natural disaster can give you profound, unwitting glimpses into the secret workings of Big Government. Wilma barreled into the Broward County School Board building last week, splattering much of its guts around downtown. Two days after the storm, Tailpipe sifted through the piles of insulation and dry leaves on 3rd Avenue to turn up a few dozen documents in the rubble, providing some lightning insights into the fifth largest school system in the country. The 'Pipe's conclusion? Despite all the dense, acronym-sprinkled prose and head-scratching Kremlin-like jargon, the school system reels chaotically from year to year while the folks in charge of the county's 270,000 school kids seem barely in control.

As the minutes to a September 15, 2005, staff meeting put it: "By January should have a matrix to determine what we are measuring." Good idea. They must be measuring something, no?

There were also these:

In October 1998, administrator Sallie Stevens requested an investigation into $14,000 unaccounted for in the Miramar Community School's afterschool care program. A previous investigation had led to the termination of a night bookkeeper there based on discrepancies in making deposits. (Asked about the whereabouts of the $2,187 in cash and seven checks, it was "as though Ms. H. had a flashback," remembering she was supposed to take it to a bank.)

There are reasons for not reducing middle-school class sizes, notes a strangely melancholy report about "staff development opportunities." Like, uh, school buildings that are too small and, let's face it, no funds.

School administrators are experimenting with new ideas, like "strategic management." Noting the dictionary definition of strategy as "the science and art of military command as applied to the overall planning and conduct of large-scale combat operations," a report urges us not to overlook the military connection. "It's all-out war between competitors." The 'Pipe's 10-year-old pipette is now working out with fixed bayonet and full battlefield regalia.

Amphibian fossils date back 360 million years, according to a biology worksheet. At that time they had four strong limbs that had evolved from ancestral fish fins, and they breathed air with lungs. Tailpipe interprets this as a warning. You too can be turned into a frog, boys and girls.

A patient who printed her signature on a Jackson North Community Mental Health Center form was listed "in stable condition, denied suicidal ideation/thought" and was prescribed drugs that treat mania, bipolar disorders, and restlessness.

Troy was in the restroom when Jake entered. Now, the boys had a history — according to a document labeled "pre-referral observation summary," Jake claimed Troy had called him names in the lunchroom. On a mid-June day in 2002, in the boys' room, Troy told Jake, "Why are you in here? You should be in the girls' bathroom." Troy later said he didn't know why he said that to Jake. Jake, though, later said he was tired of Troy's teasing — which is why, according to the document, he went over and hit Troy in the face.

The veracity of the documents could not be confirmed at press time, but the 'Pipe stands by his findings.

Bike to the Stars

Like plenty of others, Tailpipe noticed that the dark skies that come with power outages offer an unusual show of stars and planets. That was Venus in the southwest setting early, and mighty Mars nearing closest approach rising in the east. (No truth to the report that Wilma blew the Big Dipper out of the sky.) It's nice to see the universe from the middle of a city again. But you can usually catch a glimpse of bright planetary beacons even in the most light-polluted skies. It was the Milky Way, the ghostly ribbon of light passing overhead in the early evening, that was the most welcome sight.

Ah, the pleasures of low-tech living.

Besides marveling at the constellations, there was another reason not to hate everything about last week's deprivations. Finally, those South Floridians who ride bicycles were kings of the fucking road. (The 'Pipe sheepishly confesses to being a temporary traitor to the auto nation.)

Normally, cyclers do best while two-wheeling to skip major thoroughfares like Federal Highway, which is usually packed with speeding autos determined to make the life of pedalers miserable. But post-Wilma, driving became a hassle. With gas scarce, fallen trees in the road, and darkened signals forcing drivers to stop at every intersection, a lot of motorists kept their cars in the garage. That left things to the self-power types, who not only didn't have to worry about fuel consumption, but who could also laugh as they bypassed annoying police checkpoints and mandatory turn lanes.

The 'Pipe's daily commute took him past the intersection of NE 4th Street and Federal Highway in downtown Fort Lauderdale where, on one corner, a long line of exhausted-looking folks holding gas containers waited for a few gallons of the stuff at a 7-Eleven outlet. Were the looks of exhaustion and frustration out of envy for the 'Pipe's non-petrol-burning freedom?

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