By Buddy Nevins, BrowardBulldog.org
Coral Glades High School
Three years before cheerleading coach Melissa Prochilo was fired for ignoring bullying in her program at a Parkland high school, faculty members and parents at a nearby Coral Springs high school where she used to work leveled the same complaint against her.
And just like at Parkland’s Stoneman Douglas High School, the principal and his staff at Coral Glades High were accused of doing nothing.
Coral Glades Principal Michael Ramirez “overlooked all of the complaints” against Prochilo in 2009, according to an October 2 letter sent to Broward School Board members by one of Prochilo’s former co-workers and obtained by Browardbulldog.org.
The School Board fired Prochilo, the head cheerleading coach at Stoneman Douglas, earlier this month. She continues to work at the school as a substitute teacher.
The author of the letter is Carmela Ferreira, a former cheerleading coach with Prochilo at Coral Glades. She stated that she wrote to support Prochilo’s firing “100 percent.”
Her story from 2009 is almost identical to what got Prochilo in hot water at Stoneman Douglas, where parents complained that school staff did nothing about their 2011 complaints.
Ferreira’s letter says that shortly after Prochilo arrived at Coral Glades “many parent complaints started to arise…the JV (junior varsity) coach at the time also had many complaints.” The allegations included “many valid complaints such as bullying being allowed at practice, varsity girls making fun of JV girls, girls quitting because of the constant bullying.”
“Rules were not being followed properly; girls had to run their own practice because she (Prochilo) was not showing up to them. I recall having to bench a Varsity girl because she was making fun of the entire JV team at practice in front of both teams. Melissa did not agree with the benching because she liked the girl and her mother,” the letter stated.
Ferreira’s letter was similar to one received by Browardbulldog.org earlier this year after it first reported about problems in the Stoneman Douglas cheerleading program. That e-mail, whose author did not want to be publicly named, stated:
“You may want to investigate when this coach Melissa Prochilo was at Coral Glades. The same accusations were presented to the principal Ramirez and the school board. It was all pushed under the rug. We had girls that were bullied so bad they quit the team…”
The email is bolstered by a second email sent by another Coral Glades staff member, who asked not to be named, and others to Principal Ramirez on Oct. 27, 2009 when the incidents at the school were occurring.
That e-mail contains 40 different complaints against Prochilo, compiled from parents and staff. They include:
· Prochilo “allowed a girl to stunt with glasses—then injury occurred.”
· “Shows favoritism—and at this level it causes nothing more than animosity amongst girls and bullying.”
· “Practice out of control – JV and Varsity fighting, parents complaining.”
· “Girls allowed to curse and disrupt practices.”
· “Other coach witness their practice and its just crazy…way out of control with everything (playing around, language, laziness, etc).”
Ferreira told the School Board that Principal Ramirez simply brushed off the complaints “because he really did not want to deal with it.”
Ramirez was later promoted and today serves as one of the School Board’s 11 directors of School Performance and Accountability.
Ramirez and Porchilo did not respond to requests for comment.
Porchilo was fired after a parade of tearful moms who complained to the School Board that their daughters were being bullied in cheerleading and that neither Prochilo nor the school administration did anything to stop it. The mothers also accused Porchilo’s program of widespread violations of School Board policies, including requiring parents to pay more than a thousand dollars to participate.
Porchilo had her supporters. Before the Board meeting, fliers were circulated in the community calling the coach “fair, knowledgeable and kindhearted.” And during the meeting, cheerleaders dressed in the Stoneman Douglas school colors of burgundy and black, chanted outside the meeting room, “L-O-V-E. We love Coach Melissa, can’t you see.”
“It’s sad what’s being presented about this coach,” Cindy Beach, former vice president of the cheerleading booster club, told The Miami Herald. “I’ve never seen her yell at a kid.”
The Board, however, decided to follow Superintendent Robert Runcie’s recommendation and not have Porchilo continue cheerleading at the school.
“It’s a travesty,” Prochilo told the Sun-Sentinel. “I love all these children. I’m really disappointed for the girls.”
Prochilo also had supporters at Coral Glades who fought back with her, according to former cheerleading coach Ferreria’s letter earlier this month to the Board.
“It got very ugly and I decided to resign as the stress was not worth the fight and I could no longer support a coach that refused to follow the rules that had been in place for years,” Ferreria wrote.
By Buddy Nevins, BrowardBulldog.org
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School cheerleaders Photo: Jordan Feinberg
Disputes over pay to play, bullying, fraud and safety have erupted around the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School cheerleading program and have led to an investigation by Broward County Schools.
In the past few weeks, Special Investigative Unit agents have interviewed parents and Stoneman Douglas staff regarding the program and booster club, including a complaint the club has broken county rules by collecting tens of thousands of dollars from parents as a requirement to be a cheerleader at the Parkland high school.
The investigation came after complaints that Principal Washington Collado repeatedly ignored problems in the program, parents say. At Stoneman Douglas, Collado gave the parent-run booster club much of the responsibility of outfitting the team and arranging travel to tournaments apparently in violation of school system
When one parent complained twice, Collado told her she was “disruptive” and banned her indefinitely from the campus.
“We found there is no point talking to that principal. He will do nothing,” said Tammy Tornari, a Parkland mother who was the first parent to complain about the Eagles Cheerleading Booster Club.
She questioned a demand by the club for more than $2,000 in order for her two children to participate in cheerleading. The school has about 30 cheerleaders.
Collado declined comment on the investigation and referred all questions to Tracy Clark, the school system’s chief information officer.
“We are aware of the allegations at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland,” Clark said in an e-mail to Broward Bulldog. “We are currently investigating the allegations. As such, we cannot comment on investigations that are in progress. Pending the completion of the investigation, the District will take appropriate action. We take all allegations of bullying, fraud and mishandling of funds seriously.”
State-certified law enforcement officers run the Special Investigative Unit.
Eagles Cheerleading Booster Club President Joy Kelley said that in response to the complaints and investigation, the organization has been disbanded, with the financial records and left over money turned over to the school.
“Everything was done properly and for the girls,” Kelly said. “They will see that every dime is account for. Everybody was working for the girls except for a few women. “
When asked about the specific allegations involving the cheerleading program, Kelly said, “The truth will come out when the investigation is completed. We are cooperating. Nothing was done wrong. They talk about bullying. The bullying was done by those three or four women.”
PAY TO PLAY INVESTIGATED
Complaints started in the late fall shortly after parents began getting bombarded with invoices from the booster club. When parents questioned the bills of more than $1,000-a-student to participate in cheerleading, they say the management of the booster club rebuffed them.
Tornari said the costs didn’t add up.
“They said the costs were for uniforms, radios, a mat,” she said. “They couldn’t really even tell us anything beyond that. They couldn’t break down the costs and tell us what everything cost.”
Another outraged parent was Joann Gavin of Parkland, a former club official.
When the booster club was formed early in the school year, Gavin was asked to be assistant treasurer because one was required by club rules.
Gavin said despite the assistant treasurer title, the women who controlled the organization would hold meetings without inviting her and other members, effectively pushing them into the background of the group.
She added she never even met most of the other officers until she started to complain about the program. However, as assistant treasurer, Gavin had access to the booster club’s bank statements and cancelled checks
Gavin was shocked when she reviewed the club’s financial records. She said she found that the club had raised roughly $60,000 from invoicing parents.
The cancelled checks showed the club had hired two outside assistant coaches for $600-a-month. One coach was paid an additional $3,000 for “choreography and music,” according to the notation on the check. Other individuals were paid for t-shirts and bags. There was a check for $375 for bows paid to an individual.
“There was definitely something wrong. When were any of these expenses voted on by the club?” Gavin said.
With the help of an attorney, parents found that allowing the booster club to collect and spend the money violated School Board policy. The school system’s policy is included in a Standard Practice Bulletin given annually to principals and others to ensure the millions of dollars it takes to run a school is handled properly.
Under the rules, the booster club must give all monies collected to the school for handling. The policy also bans requiring parents to pay, in part to ensure programs are open to students who may not have the money to participate.
The rulebook capitalizes the prohibition in the policy. Booster clubs “May Not charge parents a fee for instructional material, equipment or supplies relating to the school program or activities,” states Policy I-101 VI.
Principal Washington Collado
Armed with information about the cheerleading program, Gavin met with the principal at least twice, first alone and then with others concerned about the booster program. Those who attended the meetings say the principal did nothing to change the program.
Gavin, meanwhile, received a registered letter banning her from the campus under a School Board policy designed to eliminate threats to students and staff.
Although she had two children in the school and there were no allegations she was dangerous, Collado’s open-ended ban forbid her from even entering the school’s front office. She has sued in Broward Circuit Court charging that Collado and the school system violated her constitutional rights to due process by not allowing any method to protest the ban, like a hearing.
Another parent, Kathy Silver, complained to coaches that her daughter had been bullied in the program.
Silver said she protested to cheerleading coaches that her daughter was continuously bullied. Silver and at least two other parents said girls were subjected to insults by coaches and other cheerleaders during performances. The bullying allegedly continued via social networking sites on the Internet.
The School Board has a strong policy to fight bullying and requires that any written or oral complaint be investigated.
Silver said that did not happen. “No one would listen. No one did anything,” she said.
SAFETY CONCERNS CITED
Parents also cited safety issues with the cheerleading program.
Gavin said she knows of six students who have been injured in Stoneman Douglas cheerleading.
Julie Chaykin, a co-founder and vice president of the U. S. Cheerleading Association, has a daughter in Stoneman Douglas cheerleading. On May 20, she e-mailed School Superintendent Robert Runcie and several other school system administrators that the program was rife with problems.
Her e-mail was prompted by Collado’s reappointment of Cheerleading Coach Melissa Prochilo. Chaykin wrote that she was astounded the coach was being allowed to run the program again despite numerous complaints and what she said were the “extremely dangerous” stunts forced upon students.
“After personally hearing and viewing several extremely dangerous and inappropriate situations…I was quite confident that once our administration became aware of the situation, that it would be impossible for Melissa Prochillo to remain on staff in any capacity, dealing with the Cheerleaders at our school. No knowledgeable coach would ever have an athlete attempt a level 4 skill without first safely perfecting the progression of skills preceding said level,” Chaykin wrote.
How long the investigation might take is not known. “I do not have a timeframe for the completion of the investigation,” Clark said.
On April 30, months after the first complaints, a notice was posted on the school’s web site reminding parents that the new season of cheerleading was starting again. The notice ended with a reminder that parents were to bring to the initial meeting “$150 cash or money order – NO EXCEPTIONS!!”
“He just doesn’t care about anything we said,” Gavin said referring to Collado.
Buddy Nevins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org
Broward School Board Chair Ann Murray
Two public school activists say they lost their appointments to the Broward School Board’s Diversity Committee as payback for bringing attention to rundown conditions at Hallandale Beach High School.
Committee members Catherine Kim Owens and James Sparks told Broward Bulldog they were notified Thursday by School Board Chair Ann Murray that she had not reappointed them. In a brief letter, Murray informed each that their terms had “concluded” and thanked them for their service.
Hallandale High is in Murray’s district. “I assume this has to do with the fact that I was vocal” about poor conditions at the school, said Owens.
Murray said Monday that her decision not to reappoint Sparks and Owens, both residents in her district, was made to give others a chance to serve, and was “not a retaliation” for their outspokenness.
She noted that much has been done to make repairs at Hallandale High, including the installation of a new air conditioning system. “There is only so much money; we are doing the best we can,” she said.
Committee members, who met Thursday, said Murray’s decision hurts the Diversity Committee’s ability to ensure students in Broward public schools have equal access to a quality education and proper facilities.
“This says to me if you say the wrong thing you won’t be here,” committee member Ernestine Price said at the meeting. “Even though you work hard you get slapped in the face.”
“Are they saying if we see something we should sweep it under the table?” said committee member Barbara Williamson. “If so, we should quit.”
Roland Foulkes, chair of the 30-member diversity committee, was annoyed when he echoed those sentiments. “I believe this is an example of the outcome when people do their jobs well,” he said.
POOR CONDITIONS AT HALLANDALE HIGH
Sparks was one of the community leaders who first brought attention to rundown conditions at the school in the 1990s through the community group Concerned Citizens for our Children. A lawsuit filed by Concerned Citizens led to an agreement in 2000 that community members and the School Board would monitor conditions and make improvements at Hallandale High and other schools.
Sparks spoke out publicly this year after a team of Diversity Committee members reported that dilapidated conditions still existed at the school. Owens was the team member who compiled the critical report, which drew the attention of Broward Bulldog and other local media days after a statewide grand jury blasted Broward school officials for mismanagement.
The district reacted by making upgrades to computers, fixing locker rooms, repairing ceilings and showers and taking other remedial measures.
Thursday’s meeting was the first session for those appointed or reappointed to one-year terms.
Each of Broward’s nine school board members, seven from districts and two at-large, selects three appointees. District board members must select appointees from their district, while at large members can select from the entire county. Three students also sit on the board.
All of the appointees are volunteers. A new chair will be named by committee members in January.
While dropping Owens and Sparks, Murray reappointed Shevrin Jones and named a new member, Daphne Henry. Murray has one more appointee to name. She said Monday that she will likely choose a Hispanic, as that group is not well represented on the committee.
Four other vacancies belong to board members from other districts.
Frustrated diversity committee members discussed a motion to urge some other board member to appoint Sparks and Owens, but decided the request would be futile because eligible board members already had used their available selections.
MESSAGE TO TOE THE LINE
Hallandale High wasn’t the only rift between Murray and members of the Diversity Committee.
According to Owens, Murray objected to committee members making unannounced trips to public schools.
“We felt we could not do that,” said Owens, who added that committee members did not forewarn anyone of their visits because they wanted to see school conditions as they actually existed, not doctored to make a more favorable impression.
Sparks added, “[Murray] doesn’t want to appoint anyone who doesn’t think like her.”
At last week’s meeting, Foulkes noted that pointing out problems is what committee members are “supposed to do.” But Murray, he said, “was uncomfortable” with the spotlight that was thrown on Hallandale Beach High.
“They were hard working and dedicated, especially in Hallandale,” Foulkes said of Owens and Sparks.
Last March, Foulkes called for Murray’s resignation after news reports described her use of a racial slur when she was a school district transportation supervisor in 2007. The disclosure was another “embarrassment” for her around the time of problems at Hallandale Beach High, Foulkes added. Hallandale High is a predominantly black school.
Murray apologized for the remark but declined to step down.
William Gjebre can be reached at email@example.com
By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org
Broward Teachers Union President Pat Santeramo
Smarting from criticism, the Broward public schools administration and the teachers union have returned to the bargaining table to hammer out a contract and salvage $52 million in state and federal money.
“We’ll see if we can get on the same page,” Pat Santeramo, Broward Teachers Union President said. “We are willing to cooperate.”
Hostilities among the negotiating parties have mounted for years while both sides have sustained blows that raised doubts about competence.
Talks resumed last week after being on hold since late April. In May, the district had declared an impasse in negotiations.
Agreements between the union and the district on the federal and state funds “should have happened a long time ago,” community activist and watchdog Charlotte Greenbarg said. “This is a lot of money. Both sides have to realize there’s a financial emergency, due, in part, to self-inflicted wounds.”
A statewide grand jury in February criticized the management and operations of the School Board and administration. Meanwhile, the political website BrowardBeat.com reported last week that the BTU has agreed to let its national affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers, review a $1.3 million drop in local union funds and assets. The declines, attributed to declining membership, had brought grumbles from BTU board members about their own management team.
The union hopes to smooth relations internally and with the school administration, while seeking to tap $31 million in federal “Race to the Top” incentive dollars awarded for teacher performance and another $21 million in state grants. The union and the district must agree on how that money will be apportioned.
That federal money “is a key component” in reopening talks because “it’s money for salaries,” Santeramo said. It is likely also the only source for new salary funds given the poor economy and the state’s cut in education funding during the past five years.
The union’s declining revenues, a history of bleak contract talks and the grab for outside money paint the backdrop to what’s now happening, although Santeramo said they were not directly related.
Santeramo said the drop in BTU funds stems from dues hikes imposed on local affiliates by the AFT. He said money to the state and national bodies went up without increases to local membership fees to cover the additional expenses.
He added there had been no misappropriation of BTU funds
“I told the AFT we have nothing to hide,” said Santeramo, adding the BTU has reduced staff salaries, including his own four field representatives were laid off.
According to district records, the BTU had 16,668 teachers and other members as of March 31. About 2,500 eligible workers have not joined the union or paid dues. According BrowardBeat.com, the union’s net assets dropped $1.3 million in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2010 – from $5 million to $3.7 million amid declining membership.
Interim Superintendent Donnie Carter, who took over after Jim Notter’s June 30 retirement, did not respond to requests for comment.
Broward, the sixth largest school district in the nation, is behind Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the fourth largest school district in the nation, in dealing with its teachers. Miami-Dade reached an agreement in May with the United Teachers of Dade on local Race to the Top performance pay – and teachers there are not facing layoffs. Palm Beach managed a $500 raise and voters approved an additional property tax for salaries for arts teachers.
In comparison, Broward teachers, who have been without a pay raise for three years, are faced with the prospect of about 1,800 layoffs. The teachers are among 2,400 employees targeted for layoff as part of the district’s effort to cut $171 million from its projected $2.9 billion budget for 2011-2012.
Broward’s application for federal Race to the Top performance pay is pending before the state; it has until Sept. 30 to reach agreement with the BTU on a plan that could bring $29.7 million in performance pay to teachers over the upcoming three years. The district received $6 million from the state for planning.
The state has earmarked an additional $21 million in grants to pay Broward teachers working at low performing school, for development of a merit evaluation plan that mirrors provisions of the Race to the Top and for classroom technology. The grants require union agreement.
Broward’s chances for completing agreements on the federal and state funding programs dimmed when the district declared an impasse in negotiations in May, especially because of the hostility between Santeramo and then superintendent Notter.
But with Notter’s retirement, the door reopened to talks.
Santeramo said he contacted school board members and interim superintendent Carter about working to get a deal on the labor contract that would include agreements on Race to the Top and the state grants.
Holding back on the Race to the Top agreement was a “bargaining chip” in order to get a new labor agreement, Santeramo said. The district, he added, now wants agreement on both to remain competitive with Miami-Dade and Palm Beach
At the resumption of bargaining last Thursday, newly formed bargaining teams for both sides reviewed the status of bargaining proposals, and agreed to narrow the issues in dispute at upcoming sessions, 2 p.m. Friday, Aug. 26 and 10 a.m. Friday, Sept. 2.
Activist Greenbarg noted it will take a lot more than agreements on a labor contract and the federal and state funds to repair the district’s damaged image. But, she added,”it won’t hurt” if they reach accord.
By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org
The Broward School Board in session
A new Broward public schools internal audit of the district’s troubled Facilities and Construction Management Division has found “areas of concern” in the bidding of contracts and says changes should be made.
The latest audit comes after a February statewide grand jury sharply criticized the district and the facilities division for a lack of oversight and handling of bids. The grand jury made 21 recommendations to correct problems.
The report by the district’s Office of the Chief Auditor, to be discussed at today’s Broward School Board meeting (Tuesday, Aug. 2), stems from one grand jury recommendation that the district’s auditor review the bidding process “to certify bids met minimums.”
“In our opinion, the F&CM Division has areas of concern in the bidding and bid opening process which should be addressed immediately to ensure that appropriate internal controls are enforced …,” says the report dated June 23.
Among concerns cited were failures to: attract a minimum of three qualified bidders for projects; exclude from bidding contractors who have exceeded their bonding limits; use a secured lock box system for receiving bids; and to prepare and publish “invitation to bid” documents.
The internal audit made seven recommendations, some of which have been already adopted by staff:
- Strengthen bidding procedures to ensure compliance with construction procurement laws and regulations. The department should maintain lists of pre-qualified, certified contractors so there are no fewer than three bidders available in each category; document that qualified bidders received original bid information and any addendums; notify potential bidders which newspaper will carry printed bids. The audit reviewed four bid openings but, only one had a minimum of three pre-qualifiers. Three other bids were postponed or rejected. The audit also found that prospective bidders may fail to observe bids because of the district’s practice of alternating bids in the Sun Sentinel and The Miami Herald.
- Improve the monitoring of the approved vendor list by constant review to ascertain pre-qualified vendors and discontinue bid opening when it is determined there are fewer than the required three pre-qualified bidders. The report found instances where only one pre-qualified bidder existed or there may have been a weakness of the district’s monitoring system to reach and seek bids from firms pre-qualified for projects.
- Utilize all available bid broadcast tools – in particular the district’s Internet bid management system, Demandstar, as an additional means to advertisement for bids to ensure that the largest number of prospective bidders to maximize market competition. The report found that the Demandstar system, used by contractors, was mainly being use to post addendum bid information.
- Strengthen contract language to ensure that addendums are fully tracked in the district. The report found there was no requirement for contractors to notify the bid- printing companies of receipt of bid addendum information.
- Establish a procedure for determining when proposers’ bids should not be opened if a contractor has exceeded state-established bonding limits. The report found several instances where the district had opened sealed bids from contractors who had exceeded their bond capacity.
- Use a lock box to secure all bids and require two staff members be present to access the box. The report found the facilities department was not using a a lock box system for submission of bids and did not regularly time stamp bids, raising concerns about the integrity of the process.
- Provide the “invitation to bidders” document as an internal step in all design/bid/build procedures. The report found that in three of four bids reviewed, the facilities division did not prepare, execute and publish “invitation of bid” documents, as required, and thus delaying the bid process.
By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog
In a $1.2 million “bitter-sweet” land deal, Hallandale Beach City Commissioners has agreed to buy nearly 2 acres owned by former US Congressman Peter Deutsch and his partners to solve a community dispute.
The city has no immediate plans for the land, which will be paid for with tax dollars from the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency.
A plan by Deutsch to build a Ben Gamla charter school on the land, 1.9 acres at 416 NE Eighth Ave., had become the target of neighborhood complaints and worries about traffic.
“I’m glad it is resolved,” said Deutsch, of the city commission decision reached Wednesday night. “It’s bitter-sweet. Obviously we wanted a school there. It was clear the city did not want a school at the site.”
Mired in a public dispute for years, school officials told the city in May they would put the property up for sale, according to City Manager Mark Antonio. The move marked an about-face for Deutsch’s group – in March the city’s zoning board had recommended approval if certain conditions were met.
“The school would have been too much” for the area to handle, Mayor Joy Cooper said.
The transaction with the city, however, gained extra attention because of the amount of money on the table.
Deutsch and his partners, Hallandale School LLC, will sell the property for $700,000 more than the $500,000 they paid for it in 2008. The former Broward County congressman, also the managing partner of Hallandale School LLC, downplayed how much money his group would make in the transaction.
Legal bills, architects’ fees and the cost of a traffic study, would leave about a $150,000 profit, Deutsch said. The company, which runs an elementary and middle school in Hollywood, as well as a k-8 school in Sunrise, will use the money to fund its business, he said.
Deutsch is the business’s public face. He declined Broward Bulldog’s request to identify other backers of Hallandale School LLC who put up the $500,000 to originally buy the property, saying it was a private company.
The property is assessed at about $900,000. But the city obtained two higher appraisals: L.B. Slater and Company, of Hollywood, pegged the market value at $1.85 million; Robert D. Miller, of Coral Springs, set the value at $1.425 million.
City Manager Mark Antonio
Antonio said the purchase price seemed reasonable compared to the city’s acquisition several years ago of 1/3 of an acre for a park just north of the site for $450,000.
Mike Butler, a resident who writes the blog ChangeHallandale.com, said the city has spent about $28 million over the last six or seven years buying land without a particular purpose.
The purchase comes as the city continues to use reserves to keep from running a deficit in its approximately $100 million budget, Butler said.
“I think the city already has enough real estate that it doesn’t know what to do,” Butler said.
Alvin Jackson, director of the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), said the agency has the money for the school property in the CRA’s $6 million land acquisition allocation. The city commission also acts as the board overseeing the redevelopment agency.
The property, Jackson said, is within the redevelopment district. State law allows the city to collect property tax money in the district and target those dollars for development uses in that area, including recreational, street and utility improvements.
Jackson said no other project was sacrificed to buy the school property and that the dollars used already exist in a land acquisition account.
“I’m very much at peace,” Deutsch said, “with the decision” to sell to the city. He added the school would be looking at other available locations in the city for a school.
Although area residents opposed the project, there were few speakers at Wednesday’s meeting.
One of those, however, was Barbara Southwick. She told city commissioners while she was concerned about “the profiting from” the sale to the city, she nevertheless supported the acquisition. She said the northeast section is the only area of the city lacking “an indoor” facility.
The $1.2 million price could be reduced by $100,000 if the synagogue currently on the land vacates the property within six months after final execution of the contract between the city and Hallandale School LLC.
The $100,000, according to the agreement, would be used to pay the city rent if the synagogue is still occupying the property after the six month period – at a rate of about $5,800 per month, until the amount is exhausted if still occupied.
City and Hallandale School LLC officials, however, said the synagogue is expected to vacate within six months of finalization of the sale.
By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org
A charter school company run by ex-Congressman Peter Deutsch stands to make a $700,000 profit if Hallandale Beach commissioners accept a staff recommendation Wednesday to buy a 1.9 acre residential site where it once planned to build a controversial 450-student, K-8 school.
If commissioners approve, Hallandale LLC, which Deutsch formed in May 2008, will have more than doubled its real estate investment in just three years.
The city administration, after meeting with representatives from the Hallandale School LLC, recommended acquisition of the property at 416 NE Eighth Ave. for $1.2 million – a sale price that is higher than its current assessed value of about $900,000, but less than two city-obtained estimates for the property.
The school group bought the property in May 2008 for $500,000 from Beth Tefilah Synagogue/Hallandale Jewish Center, a once thriving congregation with considerably fewer members today.
The acquisition would end a determined 4-year battle by area residents to stop placement of the school led by Deutsch, a south Broward Democrat who served in Congress from 1993 to 2005.
Deutsch, who identified himself as managing partner for Hallandale School LLC, hoped to put a Ben Gamla charter school on the Hallandale site. But with strident neighborhood opposition, Deutsch said, “it seemed obvious that the city did not want a school at this location. It wasn’t going to happen. We learned a lesson.”
Deutsch, who has established other Ben Gamla Hebrew-English charter schools in Hollywood, Plantation and Sunrise, called the proposed acquisition of the property by the city a “win-win” for both sides. “We created a compromise.”
Hallandale Beach would acquire the property for an as yet unspecified community use and the school advocates would be able to move on and pursue other options, including possibly another location in Hallandale, Deutsch added.
The purchase proposal was added to Wednesday’s agenda by Community Redevelopment Agency director Alvin B. Jackson Jr. It asks the commission authorize the city manager to purchase the property, execute all related agreements and establish funding to pay for the purchase. CRA funds would apparently be used to make the acquisition.
Mayor Joy Cooper told Broward Bulldog she was pleased because, in part, the deal represents “a unique opportunity to address” the matter and the needs of the area. She declined further comment until the commission meeting.
Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper
City Manager Mark Antonio declined to comment on details of the proposal. He said, however, Hallandale School LLC bought the property at a lower price than actual value because the synagogue would still be able to use the property at no cost. He said two appraisals showing the property value above $1.2 million will be revealed at the commission meeting.
Antonio and Cooper said use of the property will ultimately be determined by the city commission.
“This would end the battle,” said Cynthia Cabrera, one of the leaders of the neighborhood opposition to the school which needed special permission from the city to operate a facility in the neighborhood. Residents claimed the streets were too narrow and the traffic from the school would overwhelm the area.
“This would satisfy everybody and benefit the neighborhood and the Hallandale community” if the property would be developed for much needed park use, Cabrera said.
She expressed some concern about the $1.2 million price tag. Commissioners would “take heat if they overpay,” Cabrera said, adding, however, “It might be worth the premium price.”
Etty Sims, another neighborhood school opponent, said, “I like the idea of the city purchasing the property and I would like to see [an adjacent] park expanded.”
Several years ago, the city bought paid a considerable price for a lot just north of the synagogue that was developed into small Sunrise Park at 800 NE Fifth St., Cabrera said. The synagogue property, she said, is much larger. Broward County property records indicate the city purchase the site in December 2007, for $450,000.
Koslow says no “windfall”
Deutsch and his lawyer, former Hollywood City attorney Alan Koslow, said the school had offers higher than $1.2 million for the property at 416 NE Eighth Ave. which includes a 22,484-square-foot,two-story building. “Our price was reasonable; it’s not a windfall,” said Koslow, who has been attorney for several Ben Gamla charter school initiatives.
Broward County property records show that Hallandale School LLC purchased the synagogue property in May, 2008 for $500,000. For tax years 2009, 2010, and 2011, the “just value” of the property was listed on county property records at $916,220. The 2010 tax bill was $27,515; and the 2009 bill was $27,139.
Ben Gamla charter schools stirred public debate about the separation of church and state before the group opened a school in Hollywood in August, 2007. The schools, which teach Hebrew in a cultural context and have mostly Jewish students, have provided a less expensive alternate to the privately operated Hebrew day schools whose tuition often run well over $10,000.
The Ben Gamla schools are free to students because they receive state funds through Florida’s charter school law; the funding per student is almost equal to that for a public school student, about $6,800.
Ben Gamla officials began their effort to put a school in the Hallandale Beach residential neighborhood in June 2007, requesting permission for a 200-student K-8 charter school. The application was approved by Planning and Zoning Board but the school withdrew the request before the matter went to the city commission.
The school made a second application to the Planning and Zoning Board in January, 2009 for an 800-student, K-12 school. After community meetings, it agreed to reduce the school to 600 students. The school withdrew its applications just prior to a vote by the Planning and Zoning Board on May 26, 2010.
The school’s third application was filed in June, 2010, requesting permission for a K-12 school for 600 students. After community meetings it agreed to reduce the size of the school to 450 students in grades K-8. In March, 2011, the Planning and Zoning Board approved the revised application.
The matter was slated for a final vote by the Hallandale Beach city commission on May 18, 2011, but the school and the city agreed to withdraw the item after the parties agreed to resolve the dispute.
Once the agreement is executed, the synagogue and Jewish Center would eventually have to vacate. Deutsch said he expected the existing tenant to leave by the end of the year if not sooner. Representatives for Hallandale LLC said efforts will be made to help the synagogue and Jewish Center relocate.
Reporter William Gjebre can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org
With more students expected to enroll in charter schools this coming year and millions of dollars at stake, Broward and Miami-Dade public schools officials are seeking to stem the flow of students by promoting specials schools and programs.
For the second year in a row more than 7,000 additional students are expected to enter Broward and Miami-Dade charter schools in a few months, siphoning off $40-$50 million in state money from Florida’s two largest school districts.
Now seeing themselves in active competition with charters schools, both districts are fighting back to keep students and the dollars they represent.
Merrie Meyers, Director of the Broward district’s Parents, Business and Community Partnership Program, said the district has asked principals to conduct programs that highlight the quality of Broward public schools.
Meyers said parents who have been pleased with the education their children have been asked to help promote district-run schools to parents of incoming students – particularly those entering middle or high school.
The district, Meyers said, also has expanded special programs within various schools, highlighting science, technology and other studies, as well as created regional and countywide magnet schools and programs.
In addition, Meyers said, the district has pointed out the experience and advanced degree work of teachers and awards won by students.
Miami-Dade’s new programs
In Miami-Dade, the district has created additional countywide magnet schools, special programs or academies at existing schools, expanded the number of K-8 schools favored by parents, and established a virtual school in downtown.
In addition, it has allowed some 15,000 students to attend schools where their parents work or near their parents’ workplace. One school, Ada Merritt K-8, has no boundaries; it’s a school for students of parents working in the downtown area.
“We have a great deal of diversity,” said Richard Hinds, Miami-Dade Public Schools Associate Superintendent/Chief Financial Officer.
Both school districts made considerable gains last year in statewide testing. And both districts are among five finalists for the annual, national Broad Prize, awarding the winner $500,000 in college scholarships for graduating 2012 high school seniors. The prize honors urban school districts making the greatest performance and improvement in student achievement while overcoming income and ethnic achievement issues.
Despite the initiatives by the two districts, charter school enrollments are expected to increase again in the coming year.
Charter schools are a hybrid of public and private schools. Although they are privately operated, they receive state money based on student population and operate with limited oversight by the public school districts. In Florida, state money follows the student to either traditional public schools or to charter schools.
“We’d like to see our students stay in our schools,” said Lee Black, of the Broward public schools budget office. “The money and expenses follow the students.”
This school year, 2010-2011, student enrollment in 68 charter schools in Broward totaled 23,274.
More students, more charter schools
Broward schools public information officer Marsy Smith said 14 additional charter schools are expected to be added in the upcoming school year, 2011-2012. They could increase enrollment by 1,874, to a total of 25,148, an 8 percent increase over the previous year. That student increase would result in a loss of more than $11 million in funding for the district.
However, the district’s budget department said that based on information provided by charter schools, Broward is budgeting for a total of 29,694 students, an increase of nearly 28 percent, Black said.
She observed, however, that in past years charter schools have over-estimated enrollment increases.
A more realistic increase, Black said, would be about 13 percent, the increase during the current school year. If that occurs, the enrollment spike for 2011-2012 would be 3,026, to a total of 26,300 students. That student increase would result in a loss of more than $18 million in funding for the district.
“You plan for the worst and hope for the best,” Black said.
In Miami-Dade, enrollment this school year in 92 charter schools was 35,306. With 12 additional charter schools expected to open for 2011-2012, the district is bracing and budgeting for 5,350 additional students in charter school, to a total of 40,656, a 15 percent increase – the same percentage hike for the current school year. That student increase would result in a loss of more than $30 million in funding for the district.
While the district would lose considerable funds if an additional 5,350 students attend charters in the coming year, Hinds said the district does not incur expenses for teachers and other employees. He also said, the overall loss of funds to the district annually based on charter school student enrollment is “over $200 million” and any additional students adds to that figure.
The anticipated enrollment increases in the two counties comes as the Florida Legislature has eased regulations for establishing new charter schools and expanding existing ones.
The Charter School program was enacted in 1996 by state statute and gives parents and students an alternative to public schools. The tuition free schools are created through an agreement between the schools and the district school boards. State funds are funneled to charter schools through the district school boards.
By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org
Residents of a quiet Hallandale Beach neighborhood are battling to prevent a 450-student, Kindergarten-8th grade charter school from opening in their midst.
More than 100 residents have signed a petition urging city commissioners to reject a special permit to allow the school to open at the Beth Tefilah Synagogue/Hallandale Jewish Center, 416 N.E. Eighth Ave.
The existing 22,484-square foot, two-story building on 1.9 acres has primarily operated as a synagogue in the past. While there was never a school on the site, the Ben Gamla Charter School, whose chief proponents include former U.S. Congressman Peter Deutsch, hope to open another Ben Gamla Charter School on the site.
The property was acquired for $500,000 several years ago by the Hallandale School LLC, a group supporting expansion of Ben Gamla. Ben Gamla already has an elementary school and middle school in Hollywood, as well as a K-8 school in Sunrise. Charter schools receive state funding equal to that of public schools – currently around $6,800 per student.
According to a spokesperson for Broward Schools, 576 children are enrolled at the two Hollywood Ben Gamla charter schools. Another 196 attend the Sunrise school. The schools collectively receive about $5 million a year in public money, based on the state’s formula meant to support charter schools.
The Hallandale Beach fray is yet another South Florida struggle between nearby residents who want to protect the character of their surroundings from private and charter schools seeking to open or expand in their neighborhood.
A four-year standoff
The Hallandale standoff has been going on for nearly four years, with the matter being deferred several times just as it was about to be decided by the city commission. The most recent delayed occurred recently when representatives of the school and city agreed to pull the item from the Hallandale City Commission’s May 18 agenda amid continuing negotiations.
Mayor Joy Cooper said she is working on a resolution on the matter, but declined to say what that might be. Several residents said they were hopeful the city is looking to buy the property for city uses rather than allowing the school to open.
“This is the wrong location for the school,” said Cynthia Cabrera, one of those spearheading the effort against the school. “The neighborhood is not able to handle the additional traffic.”
The traffic flow of the many cars bringing students along narrow two-lane streets would alter its quiet character, said Etty Sims, who lives in the neighborhood. Sims sits on the city’s Education Advisory Committee, a board that opposes the school’s request.
Cabrera and Sims both said the city has a diverse population and that the Hebrew-oriented school would only serve a small number of students in the city, and that most pupils would come from outside the city.
Referring to Deutsch, who represented Broward County in Congress for 1993 to 2005, Cabrera said, “This is about one guy who wants his way.”
Said Sims, “It’s a good deal for him, but it’s not a good deal for the neighborhood.”
Cabrera said most of those speaking in support of the school at community meetings were not from the immediate neighborhood.
Deutsch disagreed with those assessments.
School a benefit to community?
The school would “absolutely be a benefit to the community,” he said, adding that at community meetings more speakers spoke in support of the school than against it.
Deutsch said a city-hired consultant, whose fee in accordance with city law was paid by the school, said new traffic to be generated by the school was within the city’s criteria for the project.
Deutsch said the school has pledged that students living in the city who want to attend the school would have preference over others seeking admission. He said he expected many of the school’s student would live within city limits, including the neighborhood.
“A well run charter school,” Deutsch said, “has the ability to transform a neighborhood.”
In recent months, expansion of private and charter schools has riled some neighborhoods. In Miami-Dade County, Coral Gables residents objected to the expansion of Somerset Academy charter school from 110 students to 735 students in space leased at University Baptist Church. Palmetto Bay residents objected to plans by the Palmer Trinity private school to expand from 600 students to 900-1,400 students
Ben Gamla stirred public debate about the separation of church and state before it opened in Hollywood in August, 2007. Critics voiced concerns about public money being spent to promote the teaching of religion.
But the Broward School Board ultimately allowed the school to open, saying its dual-language curriculum complied with state requirements.
According to published reports, Ben Gamla’s backers have said the schools have nonreligious settings that are an alternative to the privately run Hebrew day schools whose tuition often runs well over $10,000. Ben Gamla charter schools are free to students because of the state funding directed through local school boards. The schools teach Hebrew in a “cultural context,” there is no praying in the schools and students can’t be required to wear yarmulkes, according to past published reports.
While charter schools are open to all students, school officials have estimated that 85 percent of the students attending Ben Gamla schools are Jewish.
A drawn out battle
The battle over the Hallandale Ben Gamla charter school has been long and “exhausting” on the neighborhood, Cabrera said. She referred to the many times the school has changed it plans.
The school’s first zoning application in June, 2007 called for 200 students in grades K-8. It won Planning and Zoning Board approval but was withdrawn by the school before it got to the city commission for a final vote.
The school’s second application in January, 2009 requested a K-12 charter school for 800 students; it was reduced to 600 students after several community meetings. The city’s Educational Advisory Committee recommended against the request; the application was withdrawn by the school prior to a vote by the Planning and Zoning Board on May 26, 2010.
The current application was filed in June 2010, requesting permission to have a charter school for 600 students in grades K-12. After a community meeting, the school reduced the request to 450 students in grades K-8.
In March, 2011, the Hallandale zoning board recommended approval of the Ben Gamla charter school but made 18 recommendations that had to be met by the school. The recommendations have been sent to the City Commission.
They include requirements for additional landscaping and compliance with safety and building codes, the establishment and hours of operation and a provision that the existing synagogue assembly may not operate at the same time as the school. The board also recommended the school only be allowed to enroll up to 300 students for the first two years and increase to 450 afterwards if all conditions of the school approval are met.
In addition, the board said the city manager should be given the authority to seek the commission’s approval to modify or revoke the school’s operating permit if he determines the school adversely affects health, safety, public welfare or property in the neighborhood.
Unhappy nearby residents remain wary.
“It’s been a constant drain on the neighborhood,” Cabrera said. “This has been going on since 2007.”
She said residents have been outgunned by the school’s lawyers as the matter has dragged on. “This is a middle class neighborhood of working people; we can’t afford to hire an attorney,” Cabrera said. “We have to be constantly vigilant.”
By Karla Bowsher, BrowardBulldog.org
Much like everyday drivers floored by soaring gas prices, Broward County governments with large vehicle fleets have been forced to dip into reserves to keep their cars, trucks and buses rolling.
Despite setting a $14.8-million fuel budget and increasing bus fares on Oct. 1, Broward County Transit (BCT) expects to tap into its $1.68-million reserve to cover rising costs.
Broward County, the sheriff’s office and Fort Lauderdale feel the drain on money but say they have stayed on budget despite current gas prices. At $4 or $5 a gallon, though, they could exhaust their money supply.
Broward County Public Schools, the sixth largest public school district in the nation, did not respond to numerous telephone and email requests for information about the impact of fuel hikes on its huge school bus fleet and other vehicles.
With the peak driving season starting in April, the Department of Energy expects gas to average $3.86 a gallon this summer. The former president of Shell Oil, John Hofmeister, predicted on CNN in December – before the turmoil in oil-rich areas of North African and the Middle East – that gas would hit $5 a gallon.
Local governments face an increasing demand to squeeze the most out of every dollar and drop.
“It looks very likely that we’ll go over budget, but we have the resources in place,” Garling said. “I just don’t see an immediate effect [on riders].”
BCT has already set a preliminary fuel budget of $16.1 million for the next fiscal year, which starts October 1 for local governments. Officials with the agency, along with Fort Lauderdale, say for now they expect to be able to cut costs and not services.
“The issue for us is we are here and available for the public to use despite the fuel going up for us,” Garling said. “So the challenge is with all these things that we have to consider, we want to keep the maximum number of buses on the road.”
County transit operates 303 buses, with 26 using hybrid engines that run on diesel and electricity, as well as 115 that have undergone other changes to be more fuel efficient. The fleet includes 21 articulated buses, which are 20 feet longer and have 20 extra seats. Garling said this makes them “very efficient,” because they hold more passengers but don’t require much more in operating costs.
BCT makes about 36.7 million passenger trips a year, Garling said. Experts say the demand on public transportation rises with fuel costs.
According to a recent report from the American Public Transportation Association, an additional 670 million riders across the nation could drop their private guzzlers if gas hits $4 a gallon. At $5 a gallon, additional rides could leap to 1.5 billion annually.
On March 1, Fort Lauderdale turned to technology in response to pain at the pump.
City Commissioners approved a plan to retrofit 730 of the city’s 1,522 vehicles with Ward CANceivers, fleet spokesman Matt Little said. These devices monitor driver performance and tire pressure, which affect gas mileage.
The largest city in the county, Fort Lauderdale has also tackled costs by cutting its fleet by 38 vehicles. “This approach toward fleet management, known as ‘right sizing,’ saves fuel, repair and maintenance expenses,” Little said by e-mail.
The city has several fuel-conserving measures in place too, such as preventative maintenance, the use of regular routes and carpooling by staff. When conflict in Libya escalated, the city also started to regularly top off its fuel supply as a hedge against rising gas prices, Little said.
Although per gallon prices now exceed what the city budgeted, Little said they are still living within the $3.9 million set aside for fuel this year.
Broward County doesn’t have mandatory gas-saving measures for its vehicles not tied to mass transit, although some departments and agencies have done so on their own in the past few months, said Fleet Services Division Director Phyllis Braswell. She added that fuel costs are still within the county’s current $3.1-million budget.
“We’re not making any mandatory cut right now because people still have a job to do,” she said.
If additional money becomes needed, Braswell said the county would pursue new gas-saving steps for its fleet of about 1,000 road vehicles and 1,250 special-purpose vehicles, like those cars and trucks used in the Parks and Recreation Division and the Traffic Engineering Division.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office wasn’t expecting gas prices to go as high as they have, but like Fort Lauderdale, it doesn’t expect to exceed its $8 million fuel budget, said spokesman Jim Leljedal. He added that BSO has set aside an additional $500,000 for fuel next year.
To conserve, BSO has ordered patrol deputies to turn off their engines instead of idling for extended periods, except when their emergency lights are on. The sheriff’s office has also purchased a few hybrid Priuses and Fusions, but Leljedal said that if more money were needed for fuel than was budgeted, it would have to come from “somewhere else.”
“We can’t let it affect us,” he said of gas prices. “We try to economize where we can, but we can’t tell our officers that they can’t go out on patrol today because we don’t have gas. That will never happen.”
Karla Bowsher can be reached at email@example.com