(The Center Square) — A report from Florida TaxWatch has found issues with $800 million bond issue for the Broward County Public Schools that involve misappropriation of taxpayer dollars and mismanagement.
The Florida TaxWatch report comes on the heels of a recent grand jury report into the mismanagement of the Safety, Music & Art, Athletics, Renovation and Technology general obligation bond issue approved by voters in 2014. The bond issue was intended to renovate and repair the district’s aging facilities, upgrade safety and security systems and purchase new computers and other educational technology.
The grand jury report resulted in the removal of four Broward school board members in late August by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who suspended them for “incompetence, neglect of duty and misuse of authority.”
Florida TaxWatch’s 2023 fourth-quarter review found several issues with construction and safety projects spread across the school district.
Since its inception, the SMART Program budget has increased by $607 million, swelling by $77.1 million between the third and fourth quarters of fiscal year 2022-23 alone. Since fiscal 2018-19, expenditures have increased by around $57 million per quarter. The report states that at the current pace, the SMART Program will exhaust its funds within the next 24-26 months.
The report also states that a revision of construction schedules has found that almost all renovation projects have been flagged as at risk of delays, potentially impacting budgets. While most projects are expected to be completed by 2025, others will not be completed until 2026, extending completion dates for 140 projects by more than two years.
Changes made to construction plans because of consultant errors and/or omissions has cost taxpayers more than $6.8 million. Budget issues for 23 projects have totaled more than $9.83 million and the status of primary renovation projects at the district’s three largest schools are, according to the review, misleading and incomplete.
At the time of the bond approval, the Broward School District appointed a bond oversight committee to encourage accountability and transparency in its use of the funds.
While specific projects have been completed or are near completion, like securing single-point of entries for schools and upgrading fire alarm and sprinkler systems, other safety and security improvements such as emergency exit signage/lighting improvements, fencing and door hardware that have been included in primary renovation projects are experiencing delays.
Of 160 projects identified by Florida TaxWatch as having scopes of work that mention student safety and security, 15 were flagged for schedule delays. Nine other projects were also identified as having budget issues.