Runcie’s arrest angers Caribbean community

TEN years ago Robert Runcie accepted the position of Broward County School Board superintendent with impressive credentials. This summer, he steps down with his reputation in question.

The 59 year-old Runcie was widely hailed for his managment of chaos that ensued in the aftermath of a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida, in February 2018. Seventeen students and staff were murdered by 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, a troubled former student.

But in April this year, the Trelawny-born Runcie was arrested by police for committing perjury during his March 31 to April 1 testimony before a state grand jury investigating corruption by the district’s former information officer.

He has denied the charge which his attorneys argue should be dropped.

Last week, the school district agreed to award Runcie — who demits office in early August — a severance package of US$755,000.

His arrest angered many in South Florida’s massive Caribbean community, among them Jamaican-born Dale Holness, former Broward County mayor and long-serving commissioner of the region’s District 9.

“In my opinion, he’s the best superintendent of schools that Broward has ever had. He has turned our system around for the good, having higher graduation rates than ever before in Broward County — almost 90 per cent — 86 per cent of them African-American. That’s unparalleled,” Holness told the Jamaica Observer. “We see a larger number of our students going off to college, and a greater amount of high school-leavers with certificates that qualify them to go straight into the workforce. Businesses are very happy that the superintendent of schools has done that and that is why many of them have stood with him.”

The school board approved Runcie’s severance package by 5-4. Two members who opposed it lost relatives in the Parkland shooting. They blame Runcie and administrators for lax security that caused Cruz’s onslaught at Marjory Stoneman.

The board also agreed to pay for Runcie’s defence, which the district estimates will cost between US$100,000 and US$350,000. That cost, which is not included in the severance package total, will be negotiated by the district. Runcie will reimburse the district if he pleads or is found guilty or pleads no contest. He faces up to five years in prison if convicted.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis ordered the establishment of a grand jury in February 2019 to investigate possible corruption among school district administrators, and to determine if safety guidelines were being followed in schools.

On April 27 Runcie announced his resignation from the Broward County School Board post with two years left on his six-year contract which had been renewed in 2017.

Holness credits Runcie for providing resources that have resulted in the improvement of critical areas of the Broward school system.

“One of the things that I distinctly remember us having a conversation about is allocation of funds to the schools in lower-income communities. He vowed to address it and he did; he put extra resources into those schools that needed it the most and compensated teachers in these schools — and that’s the right thing to do to build a stronger society,” Holness said.

A graduate of Harvard and Northwestern universities, Runcie worked for many years in the Chicago school system before accepting the Broward County post. The sixth-largest school district in the United States, Broward County has over 270,000 students in 337 schools with 30,000 employees.

At the time of the Marjory Stoneman shooting, Runcie spoke of his concern about mental illness among students.

“Mental health issues in this country are growing, and they’re a big challenge,” he told the Miami Herald. “And they’re…certainly going to need to be addressed within our school systems, as well as in the broader society, to ensure that these kinds of tragedies do not continue.”

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