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Accountability: Desantis Suspends Four School Board Officials in Liberal-Leaning Broward County

Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida suspended four Broward County School Board members this Friday in the wake of a statewide grand jury report for the board members engaging in what the governor called “incompetence, neglect of duty, and misuse of authority” in their managing a multimillion-dollar bond for campus security.

“It is my duty to suspend people from office when there is clear evidence of incompetence, neglect of duty, misfeasance or malfeasance,” DeSantis said following the announcement of the suspension of four Broward school board members. 

DeSantis said the decision for suspension was in direct response to a statewide grand jury investigating the Broward School Board’s response to the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting that left 17 students and staff dead and 17 injured. The grand jury report,  released last Friday, cited “incompetent management” of the targeted board members and former Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie over the cost overruns of the nearly $1 billion school-safety bond program that was never completed.

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The Board members suspended are Board Chair Laurie Rich Levinson, Board Vice Chair Patricia Good, and board members, Donna Korn and Ann Murray. Not everyone is pleased with the outcome of the grand jury investigation and the governor’s decision.

“What country is this? What Governor DeSantis did is un-American and undemocratic,” said suspended Board Chairperson Laurie Rich Levinson. “He doesn’t care about democracy and overturned the will of the voters.” 

The Florida Supreme Court commissioned the grand jury at DeSantis’ request in 2019, a year after the shootings at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas. The grand jury looked at school safety issues in Florida’s school districts, focusing on Broward and Miami-Dade.

In April 2021, Runcie was arrested and charged with lying to the grand jury over his testimony of how the district used state funds meant to be used for school safety. However, Runcie’s case is rare, and because of this, it isn’t easy to prosecute. He is still awaiting trial.

The Broward bond project, which voters had approved about four years before the Parkland shooting, was promised to be completed by the end of 2021 with a $987 million price tag. The new completion date is sometime in 2025, with a higher price tag of $1.5 billion. According to the grand jury, they aren’t sure this can be completed by then. The grand jury claimed the board members failed to hold school officials accountable and were slammed for “deceit, malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty and incompetence.”

Parents who lost their children in the Parkland shootings had supported the governor’s decision to suspend the four board members. Lori Alhadeff, the District 4 board member, was elected to the board a few months after her 14-year-old daughter Alyssa was killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings, celebrated DeSantis’ decision.

In a written statement and speaking directly to Governor DeSantis, Lori Alhadeff said, “Thank you to Governor DeSantis for your swift action that holds school board members accountable based on the findings of the Grand Jury Report.” Alhadeff, who was reelected in Tuesday’s election, won her reelection, garnering 61% of the vote.

Stand with Parkland president Tony Montalto, who lost his daughter in the Parkland shooting, 14-year-old Gina Montalto, said, “We applaud the Governor’s action to follow the recommendation from Florida’s 20th Statewide Grand Jury and remove the Broward School Board members.” He also cited their negligence and incompetence in the mishandling that led to the tragic and senseless loss of life. He looks forward to working with the Board replacements to continue working on ways to ensure the safety of Broward County schools.  

“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. This action is in the best interest of the residents and students of Broward County and all citizens of Florida,” said  DeSantis. We, the people of the state of Florida, are lucky to have him governing our state, and we look forward to his reelection.