Broward County Public Schools, and the superintendent specifically, has taken some heat over the SMART $800M bond secured with landslide support on November 4th, 2014.
We are approaching the two-year anniversary of this loud vote of confidence displayed by Broward’s residents, however, there is a feeling that things are moving too slowly and more progress should have been made by now.
Things to know:
- SMART stands for Safety, Music, Arts, Athletics, Renovations, and Technology. This General Obligation Bond must be used for capital improvements and has been dedicated to enhancing the learning environment.
- A bond is basically a loan of which we, the taxpayer, is funding. The district decided the value of what needs to be done and asked if they could borrow it, from us…the homeowners of Broward County. This is a 30-year bond, so they have until 2045 to pay it back.
- The 2008 market crash did not spare schools. The legislature cut more than 25% for support to schools for capital improvements from tax-paying home owners in Broward. That amounted to a much greater loss when we consider how many of those homes then went into foreclosure, abandoned by homeowners.
- $800M sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t. Considering that we have 337 schools (including 101 charter schools) as the 6th largest district in the nation. 40% of them are 25 years old, with an average age is 27 years old. Would you live in a house for 25 years without having to replace roofs, A/C units, plumbing, etc.? The district also need to bring things up to the speed of 21st Century learning expectations, especially technology.
- The bond is issued over a 5-year period and is used in phases. The projects are slated for completion by 2021. If all these projects initiated at once it would deplete our resources as a community. That means pray you didn’t have a pipe burst in your home because there would be no plumbers to come to your aid.
- There is a Community Bond Oversight committee established to create transparency and advise the process.
I didn’t really understand the implications of the above information until I sat through a recent presentation. The reasons we needed the bond in the first place is actually the very same reasons this the most complex public works project in the state. There are over 1400 projects, with varying degrees of complexity and legal hurdles.
There has been a lot of chatter about dissatisfaction with the execution of the project. What it basically boils down to is that voters overwhelming responded to the district’s cry to fixed crumbling schools. A year later people wanted to see that it was happening and felt it wasn’t moving fast enough.
They weren’t entirely wrong. There were some significant false starts. The “cone of silence” was violated by the preferred vendor selected to oversee the bond, which led to the proposal process being reinitiated. Couple that with the abrupt loss of the chief of facilities, with controversy surrounding his replacement, and high turnover in the purchasing department; there were good reasons for a few eyebrows to be raised.
Since these false starts however, there appears to be progress…or at least the district has done a better job of informing us. Monthly updates are published (http://browardschools.com/SiteMedia/Docs/web/SMART/SMART_Update_August_2016.pdf) and pushed out to the community in ways we can understand. Contracts are trickling through the system, quicker/smaller projects are being handled while larger ones are being processed, schools are getting their individual choice-projects done, and 110 of 135 school technology updates are complete. 585 of 1400 projects are in one of the six stages of project cycle, which is about $332M spent so far. The district plans to have 90% of the projects underway by year 5.
A new mobile app is one result I am particularly stoked about. Not only is it something I can touch and feel that has come out of my taxpaying investment, but it will eventually be a great communication highway for everything from cafeteria fees, attendance and grades to bond utilization updates and school board decisions. All right in the palm of my hand.
All in all, though none of the delays seem to have been deal-breakers or issues of mismanagement, like those that plagued the district prior to Runcie’s arrival (including the arrest of school board members and a grand jury investigations surrounding construction department mismanagement), they sure aren’t confidence-builders. Runcie and the board are determined to stay the course, executing this project with the highest level of fidelity and transparency. Slow and steady wins the race…but for the voters it’s not always the sexiest route.