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Police arrest Broward County superintendent Robert Runcie for perjury

(Amy Beth Bennett /South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

It has been a few years but you may remember Robert Runcie. He’s the superintended of Broward County schools who became a progressive star during the Obama administration for his work implementing a new program intended to prevent bad behavior in schools from landing students in trouble with law enforcement. It was called the PROMISE program for Preventing Recidivism through Opportunities, Mentoring, Interventions, Supports & Education.

In the wake of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school a lot of people wanted to know why Nikolas Cruz wasn’t taken out of school permanently or even referred to police despite dozens of instances of bad behavior. Superintendent Runcie claimed at the time that Cruz had never been involved with PROMISE. But eventually we learned that was a lie. Cruz had been referred to the program in junior high, though it’s not clear that he ever actually showed up or did anything that was recommended.

That kind of playing fast and loose with the truth may finally have caught up with Runcie. Today he was arrested on a felony perjury charge:

Superintendent of Broward County Public Schools Robert Runcie was arrested Wednesday morning on a perjury charge related to his grand jury testimony on funding of school safety.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement charged him with perjury in an official proceeding. A grand jury indicted him on April 15 on one count of perjury, a third-degree felony.

The indictment states he gave a false statement while testifying to the state-convened grand jury on March 31 and April 1 about the district soliciting and accepting state funds that were contingent on implementing safety measures mandated after the Feb. 14, 2018, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting.

Runcie’s lawyer was quick to point out that the grand jury didn’t specify what the statement was and said his client would plead not guilty and expected to continue to serve as superintendent. While the specific perjury wasn’t clear, the Miami Herald said it was in reference to mismanagement of funds related to school safety issues:

According to an April 15 indictment by a grand jury impaneled by the Florida Supreme Court, Runcie made a statement that “he did not believe to be true” while testifying in a case regarding public safety funding. The indictment did not say what the statement was.

Specifically, the grand jury was investigating “whether school officials committed — and continue to commit — fraud and deceit by mismanaging, failing to use, and diverting funds from multi-million dollar bonds specifically solicited for school safety initiatives; and whether school officials violated — and continue to violate — state law by systematically under reporting incidents of criminal activity to the Department of Education.”

The under-reporting of incidents in an interesting angle. Nearly three years ago the Sun-Sentinel reported that Runcie’s PROMISE program created a “culture of leniency” which dishonestly redefined the meaning of recidivism to make it look as if the program was extremely successful at curbing bad behavior. In fact, the students were getting a clean slate every year:

A student can commit a subsequent infraction without being considered a repeat offender, as long as it’s not the exact same violation, in the exact same year.

The following year, they start with a clean slate.

“It’s extremely problematic,” said Tim Sternberg, a former assistant principal at Pine Ridge Educational Center who administered the Promise program. “You can develop a psyche that it is OK to commit crime because you can refresh the clock every year.”

Sternberg says he doesn’t have confidence in the district’s data. “They aren’t tracking kids over time.”

Good enough for government work, I guess. Of course when you have a seriously deranged student like Nikolas Cruz who manages to slip through the cracks year after year despite dozens of incidents at school and at home…well, we all know what the worst case scenario is because it already happened.