Broward County School Board members on Tuesday voted 6-3 to retain embattled superintendent Robert Runcie to continue serving the nation’s sixth largest public school district. The vote came after about seven hours of public comments by a cross section of people as well as his bosses, the school board members themselves.
Overwhelmingly, the people testifying didn’t want Runcie to go. But lodged between the praise for the work he has done were comments about serious issues that Runcie’s administration needs to address, some in a shortened timeline and others as a part of a longer-term strategy.
The district’s students, parents and educators want to continue with the leadership it selected in 2011. That’s a really good thing. Most of the frustrations with Runcie stem from the aftermath of the Feb. 14, 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Immediately following, the blame game began regarding lapses in policies and failures of the Promise program. Runcie needs to make a committee to fact-find each of those issues and have them mitigated - if need be. Questions about bathroom doors, lockdown procedures, discipline and mental health support need to be resolved publicly and openly.
However, Broward residents and businesses have a way of seeking Runcie’s head every time he does something they don’t like. Many board members couldn’t even reconcile the negative wording about the superintendent on which they were supposed vote.
The Black community rallied to his support because the call for his firing seemed baseless and racial. Some pointed out that no superintendents in other districts were fired after tragic school shootings. It does seem suspect. This is not the first time during his tenure that there was a loud and public cry for him to be fired.
Runcie’s job was in the crosshairs in 2016, after he committed 15 percent of the district’s contracts from its $800 million voter-approved bond to Black businesses. The Harvard graduate had to fight for his career life, after he was informed of an inequity and wanted to rectify it.
Data from a five-year disparity study, showed that Black contractors were not participating in school board business as they should. In Broward County, about 20 percent of its residents are Black. About 15 percent of the contractors are Black but Runcie found at the time that only 3 percent of them were getting any contracts worth above $50,000. Runcie and his staff decided to implement the recommended solution.
After he did however, there was a call for Runcie to be fired, some questioning if he was showing favoritism to Black people because he is a Black man.
The Broward school district is fortunate that Runcie wants to stay to serve and fill out his contract, that expires June 2023. It has to be hard to know that people want you gone but still expect you to be an effective leader. The school board members did show overwhelming that they are not part of the witch hunt that this time was calling for his axing.
The new governor, Ron DeSantis, made clear that he wanted to sacrifice Runcie. Thankfully, he doesn’t have the authority to do so.
Now that Runcie has a mandate and new expectations, let him lead. Hold him accountable. But the pettiness and the racist overtones evident in how district residents manage their superintendent must stop.
It’s time for the district to heal.