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DeSantis removes four Broward School Board Members from office, citing grand jury report

Superintendent Vickie Cartwright (behind the podium) talks about the upcoming school district referendum during a press conference July 26, along with some board members, Broward teacher union leaders and district staffers.
Courtesy of Broward County Public Schools
Superintendent Vickie Cartwright (behind the podium) talks about the upcoming school district referendum during a press conference July 26, along with some board members, Broward teacher union leaders and district staffers.

Governor Ron DeSantis has suspended four Broward County School Board members from office — citing the recommendations of a statewide grand jury that was launched in the aftermath of the 2018 Parkland shooting. The grand jury had recommended the board members be ousted for “acts of incompetence and neglect of duty."

In a press release Friday, DeSantis announced he had removed from office Board Chair Laurie Rich Levinson, Board Vice Chair Patricia Good and Board Members Donna Korn and Ann Murray — effective immediately.

“It is my duty to suspend people from office when there is clear evidence of incompetence, neglect of duty, misfeasance or malfeasance,” DeSantis said in a written statement.

The grand jury investigation was launched in February 2019, at the request of DeSantis, one year after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The probe was aimed at examining whether school districts were failing to follow state laws in a way that endangered school safety — and whether they were misusing public funds relating to school safety initiatives.

While the investigation was prompted by the massacre, the grand jury’s final report centered on the mismanagement of an $800 million dollar SMART bond that voters approved in 2014, to fund school safety projects and building renovations. The program has cost much more and taken way longer than the district promised.

“[T]he School Board of Broward County has — through deceit, malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty and incompetence — mismanaged the SMART Program, a multimillion-dollar bond specifically solicited for school safety initiatives,” the grand jury report reads in part. “We believe that the only appropriate remedy is for the Governor of the State of Florida to remove these members.”

The jury found that the four members failed to hold then-Superintendent Robert Runcie and other district officials accountable, and effectively enabled fraud, deceit and mismanagement to continue.

Board Member Lori Alhadeff, who ran for the office after her daughter Alyssa was murdered at MSD, applauded the governor’s decision. (The grand jury cleared her and four other board members of any wrongdoing).

“As Alyssa’s mom, it’s definitely one more step in the healing process to know that these school board members are now being held accountable,” Alhadeff said.

“Alyssa should have come home. Alyssa should be in college right now. And my daughter should be alive. And so I think that the fact that Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended them today based on the report from the grand jury to hold them accountable is so important.”

A majority of the Broward school board is now DeSantis appointees

DeSantis has appointed four men to replace the suspended board members:

  • Torey Alston, who resigned his seat on the Broward County Commission to take the appointment 
  • Manual “Nandy” A. Serrano, member of the Florida Sports Foundation Board of Directors, and CEO and Founder of Clubhouse Private Wealth
  • Ryan Reiter, a U.S. Marine Corps Veteran and Director of Government Relations for Kaufman Lynn Construction
  • Kevin Tynan, Attorney with Richardson and Tynan, who was previously appointed to the Broward County School Board by then-Gov. Charlie Crist

Under state law, the appointees will serve the balance of the term of the suspended official, which for three of them will expire in November. Vice Chair Good’s term is up in 2024.

For the time being, a majority of the members of the elected school board are now DeSantis appointees — in one of the state’s most Democratic-leaning counties.

In April 2022, DeSantis appointed Daniel Foganholi to replace out-going member Rosalind Osgood, who was elected to the State Senate. The grand jury had also recommended that Osgood be removed from her position as a school board member.

The board will also now be majority male — when just months ago it was entirely made up of women — overseeing local policy in a field dominated by women.

“We are grateful to the members of the jury who have dedicated countless hours to this mission and we hope this suspension brings the Parkland community another step towards justice,” DeSantis said. “This action is in the best interest of the residents and students of Broward County and all citizens of Florida.”

Donna Korn removed from office after advancing to runoff election

DeSantis’ decision comes just days after suspended Board Member Donna Korn won the plurality of votes in her reelection bid, advancing to a runoff in November against business consultant Allen Zeman.

The grand jury’s report was publicly released on August 18 — just days before the August 23 election and too late for the 100,000 Broward residents who had already cast their ballots.

Heading into the runoff, voters — and Korn’s critics — will have much more time to analyze the grand jury’s findings.

Nova Southeastern University law professor Robert Jarvis told WLRN that Korn is not legally barred from continuing to run her reelection campaign.

“Because you are running for a new term, the fact that you've been suspended in your old term should have no effect on your ability to run for the new term,” Jarvis said. “Now, of course, if you run and win there's nothing that prevents the governor from suspending you yet again.”

Under state law, the suspended board members can appeal to the Florida Senate. Jarvis said the Republican-controlled chamber is unlikely to acquit and reinstate any of them though.

As of Friday afternoon, Korn and the three other suspended members had not responded to requests for comment from WLRN.

School Board to meet Tuesday

Going forward, it’s expected to be a turbulent few weeks for a school district that has long struggled to secure public trust. The incoming board members will likely face a steep learning curve in navigating the bureaucracy behind the nation’s sixth largest school district.

"As our district undergoes this transition, we remain focused on the operations of our schools and our commitment to our Student First approach to provide a great educational experience to all students," district Chief Communications Officer John Sullivan said in a written statement.

One the most significant issues the new board will face is adopting the district's new budget. A final public hearing and vote is scheduled for Sept. 13.

But first, the board will have to elect a new chair and vice chair — which Sullivan said is expected to happen next week. The district had been previously scheduled to meet on Tuesday August 30.

Editor’s Note: this story has been updated to include reaction from school district officials.

Kate Payne is WLRN's Education Reporter. Reach her at kpayne@wlrnnews.org
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