FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – On Wednesday, Broward County School District officials held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to unveil a new classroom building at Flanagan High School in Pembroke Pines.
The event was a stark contrast to the protests that began just a few hours later, as members of the Broward Teachers Union were rallying and pushing a message of money mismanagement.
The teachers rallied throughout Broward County claiming the district hasn’t properly used hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money earmarked for school, leading to rundown schools and bad working conditions.
“We want our schools clean, we want our schools safe, we want our schools taken care of,” said Broward Teachers Union President, Anna Fusco. “If we’ve got leaky roofs, find a way to get those roofers in there faster. If you know that there’s mildew and stuff dripping down, and people having respiratory problems, stop ignoring it, take care of it.”
Fusco was out in front of the rallies on Wednesday, saying her members see an imbalance in where the money is going.
"If you walk through schools, you can see how certain schools are under the same umbrella, but every spoke is treated differently," said Fusco.
Broward County Public School Superintendent Robert Runcie said he challenges that narrative and tells Local 10 that schools across the district are seeing improvements. Still, he acknowledged that the work is going slower than they intended.
"The bond money has not been mismanaged," said Runcie. "I would say it's a fair criticism that it's taken us longer to execute on that work than what we had planned to do, but I have impressed on staff and everyone in the district that what we've learned from prior bond programs in Broward County is that there has been a rush sometimes to get things done. That compromises the quality of what needs to be done."
In his defense of the district's work, Runcie lists things like replacing band equipment in schools, fixing up athletic facilities, and putting new technologies in classrooms.
But he says schools like Stranahan High, where there are a lot of issues, are just going to take a little more time.
"The challenge is the facilities that are the most complex, need the greatest work, they're going to take longer," he said. "But I can tell you there's an absolute commitment to make sure that we have equity across this system."
The claims of mismanagement are coming to a head as the district and the BTU argue over a proposed 1.5% pay raise for teachers and support staff.
Fusco said the district is lowballing them in negotiations for raises and that Runcie and his staff are using referendum voters approved a few years ago as leverage.
"It's not a salary raise increase that rolls over year to year," said Fusco. "At the end of 4 years, if we don't get it back on the ballot and we don't vote it back in, it's money that's gone."
But Runcie says that money needs to be considered, telling us that goes to teachers as extra cash, equaling about 7% of their salary, throughout the year.
Right now, those negotiations are at an impasse and both sides will go to a hearing in a few weeks to determine what will happen. And Runcie tells us while he’s frustrated by the lack of compromise, he believes a lot of these issues could be alleviated if the State got its act together.
“We do not properly fund public education in the state of Florida,” he said. “Around $7,600 per student when the national average is over $13,000; that’s something that we need to take pause and say ‘What are we doing here?’ We need to make a better investment in our teachers and in our schools throughout the state of Florida.”