Superintendent Robert Runcie may stick around awhile

Superintendent Robert Runcie may stick around awhile
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Robert Runcie could get fired as Broward Schools superintendent next week, but he could stay on for weeks or months.

After a week of confusion about Runcie’s future, his departure date remained a question Thursday as the School Board decided to negotiate a settlement with the man who has led the district for almost a decade.

The board discussed terminating Runcie “without cause.” Under the terms of his contract, he’s required to get 90 days’ notice, unless the two sides come to a different agreement.

“It was put in there so you would have ample time to do a transition and figure out what we need to do in the interim,” Runcie told the board. “That’s a very important decision for the board, and I’d think you’d want a thoughtful process.”

Several board members said they’d rather Runcie left more quickly in light of his arrest April 21 on a felony perjury charge.

“We all need to move forward, and he has a defense to prepare,” board member Debra Hixon said after the meeting. “How do you be true to yourself and to the district when you have so much turmoil going on?”

The School Board authorized Chairwoman Rosalind Osgood to negotiate Runcie’s exit, as well as that of General Counsel Barbara Myrick, who has also agreed to step down after her own felony arrest. A special meeting is tentatively set for May 6.

Runcie’s future has been unclear, in part, because of statements from the school district as well as Runcie himself.

Runcie on Tuesday offered to step down “if” it would bring peace to family members who still blame him for the shooting that killed 17 people three years ago at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The next day, the school district insisted that Runcie had not resigned — he had “offered” to resign. Then, in an email Thursday morning, the district said the School Board would vote on Runcie’s separations “if and when tentative agreements are reached.”

The statements all seemed to leave open the possibility that Runcie might remain superintendent, but the discussion Thursday left little doubt.

The ultimate result could be a termination, since employees who voluntarily resign are not normally entitled to severance pay. Runcie would be terminated “without cause” because, under his contract, an arrest is not grounds for firing unless he pleads guilty or is convicted.

A number of Runcie’s supporters in the community said Thursday that they would not campaign for him to stay in respect for his decision.

Sidney Calloway, chair of the Urban League of Broward, described Runcie’s departure as a personal decision for him and his family.

Basil Bernard, founding partner of Apricot Office Interiors in Plantation, said, “Once he says he is going to go, he has rung a bell that can’t be unrung.”

It’s still muddied what happens if Runcie and the majority of board members can’t agree to terms, such as how much money he’ll be paid and how long he’ll stay. If there’s no agreement, “we’re back to square one where we were Tuesday,” said Jeff Moquin, Runcie’s chief of staff.

That would mean Runcie would still be in charge as superintendent until there’s an agreement. But Osgood said she doesn’t see that happening.

“I have 100% confidence in the ladies that serve on the School Board, that we will resolve the agreement of separation with Mr. Runcie and the attorney and we will move this district forward,” Osgood said after the meeting.

Osgood said she plans to negotiate the exits as “expeditiously as possible.” That could be delayed, though, since the district needs to hire a lawyer to represent the School Board in negotiations. Some board members objected to a lawyer already on retainer and wanted one who had never previously done business with the school district.

“I urge Chairwoman Osgood to negotiate something ... in the best interest of our students and not Mr. Runcie,” said board member Lori Alhadeff, one of Runcie’s fiercest critics.

At a minimum, Runcie, who makes $356.000, would leave with $333,000. That includes $137,000 for 20 weeks of severance, the most allowed under state law, and $196,000 for about 6½ months worth of unused sick and vacation time accrued during his nearly 10-year tenure.

Runcie, who started Oct. 4, 2011, is only five months away from collecting an additional perk estimated at $80,000. A 2017 amendment in his contract says that if he stays 10 years, the School Board agrees to purchase retirement benefits equivalent to four years of service with Chicago Public Schools, where he previously worked. The district said at the time the cost was estimated at $20,000 per year.

It’s unclear whether Runcie could receive that benefit without staying the full 10 years.

If he stays 90 days, that would cost the board $89,000. However, he would still be required to work during that time, according to employment lawyer Michael Burke, who advised the board at Tuesday’s meeting. If Runcie was paid that without working, it would be considered additional severance above the five months pay, which is not allowed under state law.

It’s possible Runcie could stay on for 90 days while assisting an interim superintendent and permanent superintendent in the transition.

Although some board members wanted to discuss an interim superintendent now, Osgood postponed those discussions until the next board meeting.

“My thought is if we come on Thursday, we’d be able to have the time to individually research so we could have that discussion,” she said.

The interim superintendent is expected to be someone now working for the district. The most likely candidates would be Moquin, who now fills in for Runcie when the superintendent is out; Chief Academic Officer Dan Gohl; or Valerie Wanza, chief of accountability and performance.

Myrick’s contract says she must be given 30 days’ notice if she’s terminated without cause, which would require something more than an arrest. Chief Financial Officer Judith Marte said Myrick is eligible for $92,000 in severance and $116,000 in unused sick and vacation days.

However, the $92,000 severance doesn’t match 20 weeks of salary based on her published salary of $220,101 That would be about $84,650. A spokesperson for the district was not able to clarify the numbers Thursday afternoon.

Both Runcie and Myrick were arrested in connection with a grand jury impaneled by Gov. Ron DeSantis after the Parkland school shooting.

The scope expanded to include a $17 million technology deal that led to the indictment of former Chief Information Officer Tony Hunter in January on charges of bribery and bid tampering.

The grand jury started looking at Hunter after a South Florida Sun Sentinel investigation uncovered that the district failed to seek competitive bids for the purchase of interactive flat panel TV’s. The contracts went to a friend and future boss of Hunter’s, who had sold him cars and a house at a large discount.

Runcie was arrested after that same grand jury accused him of committing perjury while testifying about the technology deal. Prosecutors alleged that he contacted witnesses to prepare for his grand jury testimony and then denied it when questioned about it. Myrick was accused of improperly sharing information with witnesses testifying about the Hunter case.

Staff writer Marc Freeman contributed to this report.

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