Robert Runcie arrived as Broward’s new superintendent more than nine years ago as the desperately needed savior of a school district reeling from scandal and controversy and under the harsh microscope of a grand jury.
Runcie will soon depart facing a felony charge of perjury brought by another grand jury.
The Broward County School District needs new leadership and a fresh start. Again.
Acknowledging his predicament, Runcie offered to resign Tuesday at an emotional workshop of the school board in the face of certain disciplinary action by a board that clearly has lost faith in him. He mainly spoke of the enduring trauma of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that claimed 17 lives three years ago.
“Compassion and love have too often taken a back seat to grievances, anger and hate,” Runcie told board members, as he directed his remarks at board member Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter died at Parkland. “I will step aside so you can have the peace you are looking for.”
Ten months after Parkland, this editorial board called for Runcie’s resignation because of the systemic failures the shooting revealed.
The superintendent’s swift downfall is a deeply disappointing development, and his departure is the only logical result. He became an enormous distraction to the nation’s sixth-largest school district the moment his expressionless face, on a police booking mug shot, flashed across social media channels a week ago.
Tuesday’s school board workshop should have been all about student achievement and restoring post-pandemic normalcy. Instead, the talk was all about a felony indictment, attorney’s fees, termination and severance payouts. This is not the education system that Broward students, parents, teachers and staff members deserve.
A superintendent must be a positive role model for the community he leads. A grand jury indictment, even though it is only an allegation, must be treated with grave seriousness. Under this dark cloud, it’s impossible for Runcie to do his job effectively, and he said so himself, at Tuesday’s workshop.
Runcie and the school board’s general counsel, Barbara Myrick, who’s charged with illegally disclosing grand jury information, will both depart under a shadow of sadness and suspicion. But both are entitled to the presumption of innocence, like any citizen.
Under Runcie, Broward students made significant strides in student achievement, and he built strong alliances with the local business community.
But as the Sun Sentinel has documented, a massive bond issue is fraught with problems and some school buildings are literally falling apart. Reporter Scott Travis’ beat reporting exposed the questionable purchase of $17 million worth of Recordex interactive flat-screen TVs that became part of the grand jury’s focus.
That, too, will always be part of Runcie’s legacy.
The stench of corruption simply refuses to go away. The school district’s former technology chief, Tony Hunter, faces felony charges of bribery and bid tampering in connection with awarding the contract for those flat-screen TVs to a friend.
The reality is that, compared to his peers, Runcie’s tenure lasted much longer than it should have. As he noted on Tuesday, the average tenure of a superintendent in a large urban county is less than three years. He stayed more than three times as long.
Some of Runcie’s allies have portrayed him as the victim of racially motivated attacks, a runaway grand jury and even Gov. Ron DeSantis, who two years ago said he would have suspended the superintendent over his actions before and after Parkland but didn’t have the authority over an appointed official.
There was something unseemly about the arresting agency, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which is under the control of DeSantis and the Cabinet, cheering the news of Runcie’s arrest on social media.
Let the justice system run its course. If and when a jury convicts Runcie, FDLE can celebrate.
Runcie recalled that when he arrived from Chicago nine-and-a-half years ago, he hoped to stick around for at least a decade to bring stability to a school district rocked by scandal and controversy. He will fall just short of that milestone — another tragedy. He spoke of being undermined by attacks, political interference and “wildly inaccurate conspiracy theories.”
“It’s all adult issues. It’s not about the kids,” Runcie said in a tone of despair.
Amen to that, Mr. Runcie, and that applies to you, too.
The Sun Sentinel Editorial Board consists of consists of Deputy Editorial Page Editor Dan Sweeney, Steve Bousquet and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson. Editorials are the opinion of the Board and written by one of its members or a designee. To contact us, email firstname.lastname@example.org.