FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - On Nov. 4, Broward County Public Schools will ask voters for permission to issue $800 million in bonds to renovate and repair crumbling schools and improve technology. But there's a critical question; can taxpayers look past the school district's history of corruption to approve the measure?
"I would say that we cannot sacrifice the future of our children today because of the sins of the past," Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie told Local 10 News.
Runcie said the days of back room deals, cash kickbacks and political payoffs in the nation's sixth largest district are over, and he calls the $800 million bond issue a critical moment for the future of Broward schools.
"This is really about having safe and modern schools across the entire district," he said.
Local 10 News sat down with Runcie during his recent visit to Stranahan High School, one of the many schools badly in need of repairs and renovations.
Consider this: 40 percent of the district's 238 public schools are 25 years or older. The average age of its buildings is 27 years.
Runcie said the bond money will be used to replace leaky roofs and windows and aging air conditioning and heating systems. The money will also be spent to upgrade fire alarms, sprinklers and security systems. Ten percent of this bond issue money, about $80 million, will be used to upgrade the district's technology. Runcie calls them basic, district-wide needs that have been neglected over the past six years because of a drastic drop in state and local funding.
"We have a 5-1 student-to-computer ratio. That's one of the highest in the state," Runcie said. "We have to have sufficient technology to be able to put our kids in a 21st century learning environment. Our taxpayers in Broward County have been paying less and less into education over the last several years to the extent that we've lost approximately $1.8 billion in capital funding capacity."
According to the district's calculations, the bond would cost the owner of a home with an assessed value of $225,000 about $50 a year. Even if it passes, the district estimates property owners would still be paying $127 less in school taxes than they did seven years ago. Runcie said the district has detailed plans for how the money would be spent.
"Why should taxpayers trust that this money is going to be spent the way you say it's going to be spent?" Local 10 News reporter Roger Lohse asked.
Runcie explained the newly elected school board has committed to having an independent committee oversee how the bond money is spent, and he noted there have been significant reforms and efficiencies made in the district's facilities and maintenance departments.
"Everyone's property values are linked to the quality of the schools. That's an investment," Runcie said. "We don't think it's a stretch, for $50 a year as an investment, for the kid down the streets or it's your child. The return you'll get in terms what it means for your neighborhood is huge."
Runcie said all the construction work generated by the bond money would create about 8,800 new jobs in Broward County and have a $1.2 billion impact on the local economy.
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