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Why does Runcie walk away with so much Broward taxpayer money?

A mutual separation agreement was reached between Superintendent Robert Runcie and the Broward School Board as he awaits arraignment on a perjury charge.
A mutual separation agreement was reached between Superintendent Robert Runcie and the Broward School Board as he awaits arraignment on a perjury charge.

BROWARD COUNTY, Fla. – Nearly three weeks after Robert Runcie was arrested on a perjury charge, and a day before his scheduled arraignment, taxpayers learned they will be shelling out more than three-quarters of a million dollars to the outgoing Broward County Public Schools superintendent.

The $754,900 total was reached in a mutual separation agreement that the school board approved by a narrow 5-4 vote Tuesday afternoon. Runcie previously had two more years on his contract.

So why is the county on the hook for all that money?

Board chair Dr. Rosalind Osgood noted that the district could have been looking at a payout of $2 million under the first offer from Runcie’s attorney, which would have covered the rest of that contract.

“At the end of the day ... this becomes a business decision,” said Alan Danz, an employment attorney for nearly 30 years. “It gives closure and finality. [The parties] cut off the bleeding of attorney’s fees going forward. And one could argue that saves taxpayer money at the end.”

Danz said it all goes back to Runcie’s underlining employment agreement, which is packed with perks, often done with executive positions to attract top talent.

Now, it leads to contractual obligations.

Even if Runcie had been terminated for cause, for example, he would have been entitled to earned, accrued and unused vacation days.

“The mutual agreement is something which allows each party to sort of customize something that works for both sides, so that each side can walk away,” Danz said. “Mr. Runcie walks away perhaps with less than he wanted. The school board walks away perhaps paying a little more than they wanted. But the distraction of litigation, the cost of litigation, that all goes away and each of the parties goes their separate ways.”

In this case, the mutual separation agreement comes rather than a dismissal for cause in part because it’s not yet known if Runcie will be convicted of the perjury charge he faces.

“Since Mr. Runcie has not been found guilty for the charge, we did not take this route [of termination for cause],” school board member Debra Hixon said. “I personally believe everyone has the right to due process and I wanted to wait for the outcome before I looked to termination. The separation with mutual agreement was offered by Mr. Runcie.”

Fellow board member Sarah Leonardi added: “There was significant financial risk posed by termination for cause considering that the legal process has not fully played out yet.”

Local 10 News asked both of those board members what is being done to ensure there is more fiduciary oversight on the taxpayer-funded lucrative perks built into the employment contract for the district’s next superintendent.

“As someone who is new to this board, fiduciary oversight of the employment contract of the future superintendent is a priority of mine as we go out to do our national search,” Leonardi said.

To the same question, Hixon said:

“As a board, we will have to have discussions about what the new contract for the new superintendent will be It will have to be competitive with other people in this position in other local districts and in the other top 10 districts. I would encourage the public to be engaged in the hiring process and make their thoughts and concerns known early in the process and often.”

RELATED DOCUMENTS:

Robert Runcie’s original employment agreement

Three separation options the School Board had to part ways with Runcie

Full mutual separation agreement can be viewed below:

To see school board meeting agendas and watch videos from the discussions that led up to the decision, click here.


About the Author:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."