Grand jury report could rock School Board elections

South Florida Sun-Sentinel | By Scott Travis | July 06, 2022

A much-anticipated grand jury report that investigates possible corruption in Broward schools could become public within days, potentially causing major turmoil during this year’s School Board elections.

It’s also possible the release of the report could be delayed until after the August and November elections if the state Supreme Court decides to hear appeals from those fighting to expunge details that portray them negatively.

Gov. Ron DeSantis convened the grand jury in 2019 to focus on safety and security issues statewide in the wake of the Parkland shooting.

Most of the report and the process still remain shrouded in secrecy under state law. What is known is the report will call for DeSantis to remove some yet-to-be-named School Board members, according to a court file.

The report also will go beyond its initial school safety focus by examining alleged corruption and mismanagement related to technology and the $800 million bond for school construction.

The grand jury has already indicted three administrators: former Chief Information Officer Tony Hunter on bid-rigging and bribery charges related to a technology contract; former Superintendent Robert Runcie on perjury charges and former General Counsel Barbara Myrick on charges of illegally sharing secret grand jury information.

The grand jury finished its work in April 2021. Some School Board members and others mentioned in the report have been fighting to keep their names out or get certain negative information expunged.

A trial judge ordered the report released, and an appeals court upheld that except for two paragraphs in the more than 100-page report.

But the appeals court said the report wouldn’t be released until all appeals had been exhausted. Those with concerns had 15 days to appeal. It’s possible the state Supreme Court could hear or not hear the appeals, so it remains unclear how soon the report will come out.

“I don’t know and can’t know for sure,” said Paul Flemming, a spokesman for the state Supreme Court. “It may not yet be ready as due process continues on challenges to the report’s release.”

If the report comes out in the next few weeks, it could wreak havoc on the School Board, potentially disrupting elections for School Board seats and a referendum to raise taxes for teacher pay, safety and mental health.

Eight of the nine School Board members on the board now were named in the report and received a copy in April 2021. The exception is Daniel Foganholi, who DeSantis appointed in May.

Four of those eight remaining members — Lori Alhadeff, Nora Rupert, Debbi Hixon and Sarah Leonardi — told the South Florida Sun Sentinel they are not fighting the report’s release and believe it’s past time for it to be made public.

Rupert and Alhadeff are both seeking re-election. The terms for Hixon and Leonardi expire in two years.

“I am anxiously awaiting the results to be available to the public,” Rupert said. “I’ve not retained an attorney and didn’t retain one when the draft came out and still don’t have one.”

Three board members could not be reached for comment: Laurie Rich Levinson, Ann Murray and Patti Good. The seats held by Levinson and Murray are open since they decided not to run for re-election. Good’s term expires in 2024.

Longtime board member Donna Korn, who is running for re-election, voiced hesitancy about the report being released during an endorsement interview with the South Florida Sun Sentinel Editorial Board.

Korn said she supports the release of the report “as soon as the legal process is completed,” but that could involve multiple levels, and she said anyone mentioned in the report has the right to exhaust all appeals.

“The response to the most recent appeals did produce that there were some things that needed to be refined,” Korn said. “If the appeals process continues and additional findings result, then it would not have been appropriate for it to be fully released.”

Korn said she wasn’t allowed by law to reveal the contents of the secret report, including whether she was one of the board members recommended for removal.

Asked during the interview if she was one the people appealing the report, she said she’d have to check if she was allowed to answer that. Asked again by text Wednesday, she said, “I’m not able to comment on these proceedings until they are made public.”

Korn also said she believes that the grand jury was “politically motivated.”

The report has become an issue with the elections for School Board.

“I don’t think anyone is qualified to run for School Board if they’re paying a lawyer to suppress that report,” Allen Zeman, one of Korn’s three opponents, said in the endorsement interview. “It’s fine to say let the voters decide, but the voters need to see the grand jury report.”

Candidate Raymond Adderly said he understands the appeals process but also believes voters “deserve an opportunity to know which board members might be recommended for removal or have been found to do things that are unethical.”

School Board elections will be held Aug. 23. Runoffs, if needed, will be Nov. 8.

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