Parkland, FL – A Broward County student conducted a detailed investigation on where $100 million has gone that was supposed to be spent on school safety, and released his findings on Thursday.
The report answered many of the questions regarding Broward schools’ safety and security that arose after a 19-year-old former student murdered 16 students and faculty at a Parkland high school.
When the administration of Marjory Stoneman Douglas sent out a CODE RED to warn teachers there was an active shooter on the loose at the school on Valentine’s Day, some of the teachers in the 1200 Building, where Nikolas Cruz had gone on his killing spree, could not hear the announcement over the fire alarm that was blaring.
Andy Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was murdered during Cruz’s rampage, told The Hill that the fire alarm system overrode the alert system on the day of the shooting.
“But that's one of the reasons why on the third floor, my daughter got let out of the classroom by a teacher with the gunshots going off,” Pollack said.
“Ninety rounds go off on the first floor. I spoke with some of the teachers on the third floor. They kept their students in… My daughter's teacher let her out into the hallway with the fire alarm going off but she couldn't hear anyone calling the Code Red anyway, because that superseded the intercom system,” the devastated father explained.
The failure of the alert system to notify teachers in the freshman building, where the shooter was actively on his rampage was underscored in the detailed research performed by Broward County 19-year-old Kenneth Preston.
Preston released his findings in a detailed report on Medium, and explained that the vast majority of the responsibility for the security failure at the Parkland high school can be laid squarely at the feet of Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie.
Just three months before Runcie joined the Broward school district, he was demoted from his position as Chief of Staff to the board president of Chicago Public Schools, Substance News reported.
Upon arrival in Florida, the new superintendent immediately reduced the amount of transparency the school board had previously had with residents of the district, including cutting in half the number of meetings open to the public, Preston said in his report.
After the carnage at Marjory Douglas Stoneman on Feb. 14, Runcie sent a letter to Florida Governor Rick Scott that blamed a budget shortfall for the poor security in his school district, and called the budget “significantly inadequate,” the Orlando Sentinel reported.
“Superintendents fully support the additional, much needed funds for safety and mental health,” Runcie wrote. “However, the limited additional funding … will necessitate school districts to eliminate funding of other programs to meet the operational costs of our school districts.”
Preston’s research into the budget determined that the Broward school superintendent hadn’t even begun to tap into the resources he’d been allocated for school safety.
“What Superintendent Runcie fails to mention, however, is that he’s had access to nearly $100,000,000 designated specifically for school safety for years as part of a 2014 Bond Appropriation,” Preston wrote.
In 2014, Runcie strongly backed a ballot measure to put $800 million back into the Broward schools, and it passed, WPLG reported.
More than $100 million of that fund was designated specifically for upgrading safety and security in the district’s schools; however, it’s barely been touched.
“Of that money, only $5,584,512 (roughly 5.3%) has been spent since its passage,” Preston revealed, pointing to the school district’s own data.
“If the school safety money continues to be doled out at the current rate of 1.76% spent per year, Broward Public Schools will not see the entirety of that safety money for another 53 years, or the year 2,071,” he wrote.
Preston said that Runcie called his report “fake news” and referred to Florida TaxWatch for the “facts.”
Unfortunately for the superintendent, Florida TaxWatch confirmed Preston’s numbers, and told him he was “reading the numbers correctly,” in an email on April 2.
Preston told The Hill that he didn’t know why the money allocated for security hadn’t been used for its intended purpose of improving school safety in the district.
“All I know for certain is that it has not been the number one priority that they originally intended for it to be,” Preston said.
Florida TaxWatch criticized the school district’s lack of transparency about their spending in a report released in late February, The Sun-Sentinel reported.
“The public has every right to know which school projects are delayed and the reasons for the delay, as well as which school projects are over-budget,” the report said. “The public’s right to know is not well-served by these omissions.”
But Preston’s investigation doesn’t solely blame Runcie for the security failures in Broward schools.
In fact, he reported that the Broward Sheriff’s Office worked hand-in-hand with Runcie and the school board to create the “Promise” program designed to end the "school-to-prison pipeline," in accordance with the Obama administration’s Supportive School Discipline Initiative.
That initiative was created to combat the disproportionate of minority students being arrested, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s website.
But what the program effectively did was take 13 misdemeanors schools would have previously reported to police and let the administrators adjudicate them instead.
The result was that the crime statistics for the school district, and Broward County, dropped to one of the lowest student arrest rates in Florida, despite the crimes still being committed.
Next, Superintendent Runcie also directed the school system to funnel incarcerated students back into the school system as part of various “re-engagement” programs, Preston reported.
Students who had been convicted of serious crimes such as “rape, murder, attempted murder, sexual battery, or firearm related activity” were given the opportunity to return to the traditional school system as part of the program, according to the Broward School Services website.
In his report, Preston points out that the Parkland school shooter had been reported to the school for harassment, fighting, assaults, and threats – all crimes that fall under the Promise Program.
“The District has no record of Nikolas Cruz committing a PROMISE-eligible infraction or being assigned the PROMISE while in high school,” Broward County Public Schools wrote in a statement to Sunshine State News.
Sunshine State News pointed out several examples of Cruz being accused of committing crimes while he was still a student at Stoneman Douglas - a number of fights on school grounds, online messages threatening violence, bringing a backpack with bullets to school – that students said they had notified the administration about.
"I'm going to go there [the high school] and shoot it up," Cruz told a fellow student, according to Sunshine State News.
Local police responded to no less than 18 emergency calls from the home, including one occasion when Cruz was holding a gun to a relative's head, and yet the future killer was referred to none of Broward’s highly-touted intervention programs.
“I’m sorry to say, but we all knew some sort of tragedy like this was going to happen in Broward. You can’t just stop arresting kids and send kids straight from juvie back into schools without expecting something like this,” a veteran Broward sheriff’s deputy and school resource officer told Preston on condition of anonymity.
“As officers, our hands were tied… the decisions were political ones, not well researched or backed by evidence, just follow the money. If they really wanted to know what worked, they would’ve asked us the officers,” he said.