There’s little doubt Broward County Public Schools superintendent Robert Runcie’s rabid implementation of his “no arrest” policy in 2011 helped Nikolas Cruz to stay “in the classroom and out of the courtroom,” a phrase Runcie often repeated when touting his signature PROMISE program.
Runcie’s plan served as an exemplary model for 50 participating school districts across the country, affecting 6.35 million children. In a July 2015 White House conference attended by Runcie and his former boss in Chicago, education secretary Arne Duncan, the superintendent received high praise for leading the nation in reducing student arrests.
But according to many outside reports, by 2015, the Obama-directed school discipline guidelines were creating chaos in the country’s classrooms. After Oklahoma City instituted the new discipline policies, teachers referred violent students to the administration, only to have them returned to the classroom a short time later.
“It is amazing the district reports to the local news media that the disciplinary/referrals issues have gone down when that is not the case at all,” one teacher wrote. “Teachers are being abused physically[;] there is total defiance from students as early as 1st-2nd grade.”
We were told that referrals would not require suspension unless there was blood,” one teacher said.
We have written many times about the demographic challenges the district faces. Yet no teacher, when asked what the job is really like, should ever describe it this way: “Students are yelling, cursing, hitting and screaming at teachers and nothing is being done but teachers are being told to teach and ignore the behaviors.”
After the Valentine’s Day horror at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County, where the “suspension” threshold of “blood” was met, the Department of Education, under the leadership of Betsy DeVos, has been inundated with calls to rescind Obama’s school discipline policies.
Mr. Runcie has declined to comment. In many of his post-shooting interviews and during his rock star performance at the CNN town hall on February 21, Mr. Runcie has steered clear of any questions about his collaborative agreement with the political, legal, and educational establishment of Broward County to keep kids out of the school-to-prison pipeline.
The superintendent’s silence on the issue is deafening.
Not only is Runcie refusing to accept any responsibility for his part in putting his agenda first and student safety last, but his recent statements suggest that Broward County schoolchildren are as vulnerable as ever with him in charge.
In a chilling March 1 tweet praising the anti-NRA, anti-Trump student-activists, Runcie wrote: “Why are the Parkland students so good at this? Their public schools prepared them for it.” The same could be said of Nikolas Cruz.
The superintendent’s tweet links to a Slate magazine article that states that most of the #NeverAgain student-protesters were MSD’s “theater kids,” who have benefited from the school’s “exceptional drama program.” According to Slate, the county also has a system-wide debate program in every middle and high school.
Coincidentally, some of the students at Stoneman Douglas had been preparing for debates on the issue of gun control this year, which explains in part why they could speak to the issues from day one.
Instead of making sure his schools have state-of-the-art security systems in place, Runcie pushes a gun control agenda on to the same children victimized by his PROMISE fiasco. The superintendent has also voiced his opposition to arming teachers.
We don’t need to put guns in the hands of teachers. You know what we need? We need to arm our teachers with more money in their pocket.
Teachers shouldn’t count on Mr. Runcie’s altruistic rhetoric. He typically sees money as the answer to his school district’s problems. However, under Runcie’s management, the district has been plagued with financial malfeasance.
In 2014, voters passed an $800-million renovation bond referendum for repairs on school buildings that included mold and mildew problems and crumbling walls and ceilings. The superintendent promised that repairs would begin in 2015, but by August 2016, projects were stalled because of “so many blunders, planning errors, and employee shakeups,” as reported by the Sun-Sentinel. In 2017, investigators found that only one percent of the projects had been started and cost overruns were potentially reaching the half-a-million mark. When a school board member asked Runcie about the cost overruns, he stated, “Oh, that memo that went out…that’s a change in the cost. Those are not necessarily overruns of projects.”
In 2016, a state audit found that Broward County Schools had improperly distributed $23 million in Title I federal funds designed to help low-income students.
Another administrative scandal happened in 2016. This one involved a high school behavior support teacher plucked from obscurity by Runcie to manage a project of the Broward School Police Department Special Investigative Unit (SIU). As a special assistant to the police chief, Jill Haring was in charge of a project revamping policies governing investigations of staff. Haring received a salary increase despite having no law enforcement experience. The police department at the time of Ms. Haring’s promotion was also facing a $3.5-million shortfall. She eventually came under fire and stepped down from her position. The shakeup caused the SIU police chief and other officials to resign.
Superintendent Runcie’s promotion of a leftist agenda and his questionable financial practices come as no surprise. Runcie’s close connections to the Department of Education during the Obama years included not only his old college friend, Arne Duncan, as the head of that agency, but also his brother, James Runcie. Obama appointed James chief operating officer of the $1.3-trillion Federal Student Aid program beginning in 2011, the same year his brother, Robert, left Chicago to head up Broward County schools. Robert “Bob” Runcie came to Broward well insulated and well connected.
James Runcie, who appears to have inherited the same mismanagement gene as his brother, resigned in May 2017 after it was discovered he had received over $400,000 in off-the-books bonuses. Additionally, Judicial Watch reported that under his leadership, $6 billion in improper payments were made to federal student aid programs. The Obama appointee was scheduled to testify before the House Subcommittee on Government Operations on May 25 but resigned shortly before the hearing. In his resignation memo, James Runcie stated he “had not heard a single compelling reason” why he should appear before the committee. His brother, Robert, possesses the same lack of accountability, even in the aftermath of a deadly school shooting.
As if the tragic loss of life at Marjory Stoneman Douglas weren’t bad enough, a few months before Feb. 14, 2018, the Broward County School Board voted in favor of extending Robert Runcie’s employment as superintendent until 2023.