Bond handling criticized
$800 million program mishandled, report says
An $800 million bond program to upgrade Broward County schools has faced delays and cost increases that haven’t been properly explained to the public, according to a new school district commissioned report.
Florida TaxWatch, a nonprofit group charged with monitoring the progress of the bond program, wrote that reports of cost overruns and delayed projects is “of great concern.” But despite repeated recommendations, “the district fails to identify those projects likely to be delayed and those projects that are likely to require additional funding.”
The district’ s Bond Oversight Committee reviewed the recommendations Monday night.
County voters approved the bond in November 2014, but construction has yet to start on many projects that were supposed to be under construction by the summer of 2015. The program was approved to fix decaying facilities and update technology at most county schools. District officials say that despite initial delays, they are on schedule to complete all work by their original goal of 2021.
They expect costs to increase by about 25 percent, but haven’t provided detailed costs or timelines for individual schools, the Tax Watch report says.
“The public has every right to know which school projects are delayed and the reasons for the delay, aswell as which school projects are over-budget,” the report says. “The public’s right to know is not well-served by these omissions.”
Members of the Bond Oversight Committee questioned whether all work would get done, since officials are predicting a 25 percent increase in costs.
“Where are you going to find this money?” asked committee member Bruce Bernard, a manager for a construction company. “When we get to year five, therewill be nothing left.”
Omar Shim, who oversees the capital budget, said the district plans to fund all
projects, even if it requires additional dollars. The district’s original five-year bond plan budget is actually $1 billion — $800 million fromthebondand$200million from other sources. Shim said $300 million has not been allocated to any specific project, and can be used to offset project costs.
“If we need to put more money into the program to deliver it, that’s our commitment,” Shim said.
District officials attributed the cost increases to greater than expected inflation in the construction industry and changes to the scope of work. They said they found some projects needed morework than first expected.
The report and committee members criticized the district for theway it reports progress to the public. Adistrict quarterly report lists 18
security projects designed to restrict the public’s access to the front office as being complete. But the projects were actually finished before the bondwas approved, the report says.
District consultantRobert Corbin of Heery International said the 18 projects were in the original bond plans, but the district later determined that they’d already been completed and weren’t needed. They are freeing up $2.9 million for other projects, he said.
Some committee members were annoyed by a district report that said 62 percent of bond work has started, which is up from 49 percent a few months ago. Most of those projects are still in the early stages, and little construction work has started.
“I don’t care how many projects have started. Iwant to know how many are on schedule,” Bernard said.
District officials said they would includemoredetailed information about each project in future reports.
TaxWatch praised the district for its progress in upgrading technology at schools. The report said 91 percent of planned computer purchases are complete or in process. And 87 percent of schools now comply with the district’s original goal of having a ratio of one computer for every 3.5 students.
“Where are you going to find this money? When we get to year five, there will be nothing left.” Bruce Bernard, Bond Oversight Committee member