Bond han­dling crit­i­cized

$800 mil­lion pro­gram mis­han­dled, report says

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - LOCAL - By Scott Travis Staff writer

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

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