Maureen Dinnen: What School Board Corruption?

Broward County School Board Chairwoman Maureen Dinnen and Superintendent James Notter sent an email to all district employees regarding the stunning federal investigation and arrest of Beverly Gallagher. And what they said can boiled down to two words: "Rah rah."

Here's the text of the email: 

Dear District Employees,

Reporters have inquired how our District will recover from recent events.  Our answer is that on September 16 of this year Broward was recognized as one of the five best urban school districts in America.  According to the Council of Great City Schools, of the largest 100 districts in the nation, we are one of the top two and our finance department is number one.

We are grateful for these awards, but none of them are flukes.  We---all of us---all thirty some thousand of us---earned these tributes in the midst of the toughest economic crisis in 80 years.

Our Broward County School District has moved the state away from total reliance on FCAT, and established an anti-bullying policy before the rest of Florida knew there was a bullying problem.  Broward is an "A" District, and school districts all over Florida and the United States are borrowing our policies, our programs, and our practices.

The sadness of recent events shows us we cannot be complacent.  Together, what we do for Broward children is more important than any of us individually.  The term "Team Broward" is not a simple rah-rah phrase.  We will continue to be successful because we have high quality people and we know how to work together on our core mission, educating students.

We shall keep striving for excellence.  We are a quality work in progress.  Watch us, members of the Broad Foundation!  The Broward County Public School District is coming after that first prize.

Maureen S. Dinnen                               James F. Notter

School Board Chair                              Superintendent

The Broward Teachers Union has issued a rebuttal to this bit of nonsense that is absolute required reading. In it, BTU points out that the "damage control continues" and that the school board, while laying off teachers, found enough money in the budget to send Dinnen, Notter, Jennifer Gottlieb, Ann Murray, Ben Williams, Donnie Carter, and two other district officials to Washington to accept that award which magically nullifies rampant corruption.  

The union response can be read in its entirety after the jump.

The BTU's response:

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The damage control continues.

Just days after the district sent out a memo offering free lawyers to any employee that is contacted by the authorities and nearly one week after the corruption probe into Broward schools was announced, the district's attempt to control damage - not encourage cooperation --  continues.

Note in the message, once again, the absence of encouraging employees to cooperate with authorities or encouraging employees to contact the authorities if they know something.

Even though the district does not seem to be in any hurry to provide the authority's contact information, BTU President Pat Santeramo sent out a statement the very first day that the probe was announced encouraging all union members to cooperate with the authorities.

Since the contact information is missing from the district's, not first, but even second message to employees, here is the contact information for any employees who have information about district corruption: FBI Special Agent Kevin Griffin at 305-525-1515

Today's district letter states the school system received an award on September 16 and describes it as not having been a "fluke." One has to wonder if the district officials who are under investigation really think they would have received the award if the organization giving out the award knew the district officials attending the awards ceremony were "possibly" the subject of a federal corruption probe.

The letter to employees states the district has been in the toughest economic crisis in 80 years. Despite this and, equally important, despite having 60 laid off employees and even threatening not to provide cost of living raises, district officials fail to inform employees that they found enough tax dollars to fly Notter along with School Board Chairwoman Maureen Dinnen, School Board Vice Chairwoman Jennifer Gottlieb, and board members Ann Murray and Ben Williams, School district Chief Operating Officer Donnie Carter, Area Superintendent Sharon Airaghi and Associate Superintendent Katherine Blasik (none of the actual employees in the classroom doing the work to earn the award) to Washington D.C. for the award's ceremony.

BTU President Pat Santeramo declined the district's invitation to attend.

The only thing that is not a "fluke" in this very sad situation is the federal corruption probe itself. It has been a long time coming. Sadly, ethics violations are often not against the law, but union leaders can only hope for positive change in the way the district has been operating.

Superintendent Jim Notter was warned in writing by a school employee as early as April 19, 2009 that the "construction department required investigation."

On February 10, 2009, BTU President Pat Santeramo held a press conference outside of the school system's headquarters and announced the district was using the wrong construction bidding system - a system that appeared subject to undue influence by school board members and district officials -- and they were wasting tens of millions of tax dollars doing it. Notter's response - as he was quoted in the press - was that Broward schools has no waste.

Last spring, BTU President Pat Santeramo resigned from the district's insurance advisory committee that makes recommendations as to which company receives the school system's nearly $200 million insurance contract because it was obviously skewed toward school board members, who ultimately also do the voting, and administrators.

Nonetheless, despite union staff and members proposing that a new insurance advisory committee be adopted, district officials have once again rebuffed and refused their efforts.

One can only wonder what Notter's explanation to the FBI agents will be when he meets with them on Friday.

Once again, BTU President Pat Santeramo encourages any and all union members with information about district corruption to contact and cooperate with the authorities.

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