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At Broward County School Board meeting, public safety and mental health continue to be top concerns

The Miami Herald
Broward County Schools Superintendent Dr. Vickie Cartwright

Public safety and mental health continue to be top concerns in Broward County Public Schools — and in districts across the state. These were just some of the top issues that came up during a Broward school board meeting on Tuesday.

WLRN’s education reporter Kate Payne shared some of the highlights from the meeting:

This excerpt has been edited lightly for clarity.

WLRN: The school board decided to officially move forward with a plan to raise local property taxes to help pay for school security and mental health providers. What's the latest on that?

PAYNE: Broward County schools will be asking voters to once again pay more in taxes to fund what they say are really critical services, mental health support and school security staff. And this is something that would go on the ballot for voters to weigh in on this August. And it's basically a renewal of a tax referendum from 2018 that was approved after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and this funded a major investment more than 500 school security staffers, dozens of mental health staffers, school counselors, psychologists, family therapists. And this money also went towards pay increases for teachers as well, and board members say all of that is on the line if this referendum isn't approved by voters.

WLRN: There's been intense scrutiny of the past referendum to fund construction projects in Broward County schools. There have been years of delays and cost overruns from that. Why should voters trust the district with another tax increase?

PAYNE: Board members addressed that. This has been an ongoing issue for them, of these questions around why has it been so difficult for them to execute on that 2014 bond referendum? So many schools still waiting on new air conditioning, new roofs, things like that. And the board basically pivoted to the 2018 referendum, saying that they promised that that money was going to go to these things of mental health support and school security. And they said that they followed through on that and the district is being audited right now to review how that money was spent from 2018. And the chief financial officer said that audit will confirm that they did what they said they would do, and that the public should feel confident in that.

WLRN: The board also heard some pretty passionate testimony from the Broward teachers union, on the threats that teachers are facing right now from students. What did they have to say about that?

PAYNE: Anna Fusco of the Broward Teachers Union was bringing a lot to the meeting of accounts of threats against teachers and even physical violence. She's hearing from staff who say they've been punched and kicked, some who have required medical attention and treatment. Fusco said she is spending more time with people who are getting hurt on the job than at any other point in her career. And Fusco is also alleging that administrators in the district aren't properly addressing these instances and aren't following through on protocols to respond. It's a very difficult time. So many students are struggling a lot after the pandemic. How much they've been through, the trauma that they've experienced at home, and some of that is showing up in schools.

WLRN: What did district officials say? How do they respond to this?

PAYNE: Well, Superintendent Vickie Cartwright acknowledged what Fusco said, saying these are issues that are being seen not just in Broward schools but across the country. And Cartwright said she's looking into this and mentioned she's looking into providing de-escalation training for teachers and general education settings and special ed settings for them to be better equipped to de-escalate situations so that they don't get physical or violent. And Cartwright said she's taking this seriously. She's working on it and said the board will hear more from her soon on this.