Report: Lobbyist 'controlled' school board

Published On: Sep 26 2012 08:15:08 AM EDT
Updated On: Sep 27 2012 07:21:12 PM EDT

Veteran politician Lois Wexler explained to grand jury lobbyist Neil Sterling's unseemly hold on the school board.

Below is the recently released report from the grand jury after an interview of Broward County Commissioner Lois Wexler, a former school board member.

In it Wexler describes how lobbyist Neil Sterling "controlled" the school board and how he sold software to the board -- called Riverdeep -- that was faulty and wasted millions of dollars for the district (she says it wasn't, as the report says, "hundreds of millions").

And Wexler says that when former Supt. Frank Till brought competition to the software business, it outraged two board members so much that they decided to have him removed. From the report: "Ms. Wexler stated that SBBC board members Stephanie Kraft and Robert D. Parks were upset at Dr. Till for enacting this process as it took money away from their friend and lobbyist, Neil Sterling.  Ms. Wexler stated that it was this situation that resulted in Ms. Kraft leading the charge to have Dr. Till fired and replaced."

Incredible. As you may remember, Kraft was arrested on corruption charges on October 4, 2010 (ten days before the Wexler interview) and Parks unexpectedly announced he was leaving the board in November 14, 2010. Both received tens of thousands of dollars in contributions from Sterling and companies and subcontractors he represented. And Kraft's husband, Mitch, who also now faces criminal charges connected to dirty developers Bruce and Shawn Chait, was secretly hired by Sterling to work for one of his firms that marketed, wait for it, Riverdeep. Here's the report: 

On October 14, 2010, Broward County Commissioner Lois Wexler was interviewed at the Office of the Statewide Prosecution in Broward County, Florida. Present during the interview were SA Futch, SA Rawson, SWP Bill Shepard, Chief SWP Julie Hogan, ASWP Oscar Gelpi and Ms. Wexler. The interview was not recorded and Ms. Wexler was not placed under oath or sworn in for the interview. During the course of the interview, Ms. Wexler stated that following;
Ms. Wexler stated that the problems within the School Board of Broward County (SBBC) started under the supervision of former SBBC Superintendent [Frank Petruzielo], continued under the management of Dr. Frank Till and continues under the management of James Notter.
Ms. Wexler stated that Dr. Till was a strong advocate of technology. Ms. Wexler stated that she was approached by representatives of IBM, Apple and others and was informed by these representatives that they could not get any work or contracts with the SBBC as it was viewed as a “closed shop.” Ms. Wexler stated that at that time, the SBBC was controlled by lobbyist Neil Sterling.
Ms. Wexler stated that approximately six and one half years ago, Mr. Sterling set up a demonstration show at McFatter Technical School to demonstrate a product he was involved with called “River Deep.” Ms. Wexler stated that former board member Carol Andrews and former board member Judy Budnik attended the demonstration. The demonstration was designed to allow Mr. Sterling to demonstrate a new software program called “River Deep.” The River Deep software was designed to alleviate all software compatibility and integration issues within the computer systems of the SBBC.
Ms. Wexler stated that without issuing any requests for proposals (RFP) or requesting any bid proposals, Dr. Till placed an item concerning “River Deep” on the school boards agenda. The agenda item passed and according to Ms. Wexler, the SBBC spent “hundreds of millions” of dollars for the software, installation and training. Within a brief period of time, it became apparent that the software could not perform as advertised. Ms. Wexler stated that this was the beginning of the end of Dr. Till’s tenure with the SBBC.
Ms. Wexler stated that after the “River Deep” failure, Dr. Till decided to open up the software issues to competitive bidding. Dr. Till implemented a plan whereby the individual principals at the individual schools would decide what technology and support was needed at their individual school and enable the acquisition of this technology once it was identified by the principal and the staff of that school. Ms. Wexler stated that SBBC board members Stephanie Kraft and Robert D Parks were upset at Dr. Till for enacting this process as it took money away from their friend and lobbyist, Neil Sterling. Ms. Wexler stated that it was this situation that resulted in Ms. Kraft leading the charge to have Dr. Till fired and replaced.
Ms. Wexler stated that investigators should speak with Bill James, Dr. Frank Till and John Filipo concerning the “River Deep” software debacle. Ms. Wexler stated that Bill James was a minority vendor for a private technology company called CELT as well as a minority vendor for the DELL Corporation. Mr. James informed Ms. Wexler that he found it nearly impossible to acquire any work from the SBBC as all work and products needed to be associated with Mr. Sterling. Mr. Felipo was a managing partner and owner of the CELT Company which was competing with the “River Deep” software group for a contract with the SBBC. Mr. Felipo allegedly possesses information concerning the procurement process within the SBBC and how it can be a corruptible process.
Ms. Wexler stated that Mr. Parks was the main impetus to advance technology related issues within the SBBC. Ms. Wexler stated that Mr. Parks had always been very involved with technology related issues, had mentored and coached the principal “players” within the technology arena and controlled all of these “players.”
Ms. Wexler stated she had limited knowledge concerning Elementary School C or the Beachside Montessori Village. Ms. Wexler stated that at the time of conception, the school was badly needed to eliminate the overcrowding of schools located on the east side of the county.
Ms. Wexler stated it was well know prior to the school being started that it was no longer needed as the population numbers had decreased dramatically. Ms. Wexler referred to a study commissioned by the SBBC utilizing the company URS. The study provided a ten year outlook for the county addressing every issue from population shifts, prospective housing developments, demographics, as well as births and death rates. The study clearly demonstrated that the population numbers were not going to increase or remain constant but rather decline significantly. Ms. Wexler stated that most members of the school board were not happy with the study and refused to accept it as it would mean an end to the construction projects and an end to the extra amounts of money coming from tax dollars and the state legislature.
Ms. Wexler stated that she was vaguely familiar with the plant surveys and the extensions that were requested. Ms. Wexler stated that she believes the plant surveys were intentionally manipulated in order to allow the SBBC to continue the frenzied pace of construction. Ms. Wexler stated that Thomas Getz was in charge of preparing and submitting the plant surveys but Mr. Getz would have received his marching orders from Michael Garretson.
Ms. Wexler stated that James Notter would have been the person responsible for sending the letter to the Florida Department of Education (DOE) requesting the extension of the plant survey. Ms. Wexler stated she believes Mr. Notter was aware of the ramifications of not acquiring an extension for the plant survey as this would have stopped or significantly slowed down the rate of construction within the SBBC.
Ms. Wexler stated that if you have five votes within the SBBC Board, you can control
everything. Ms. Wexler stated that things appeared to change when Ms. Kraft’s husband, Mitch Kraft lost his job as the city attorney for the City of Tamarac. Ms. Wexler stated that Ms. Kraft’s behavior and attitude on the dais appeared to change when this happened. Ms. Wexler stated that about the same time, former board member Darla Carter lost her re-election bid to Jennifer Gottlieb.
Ms. Wexler stated she took several SBBC construction related issues to Broward County State Attorney Mike Satz but nothing ever happened as a result of these meetings. Ms. Wexler stated the two largest issues financially for the SBBC are construction and infrastructure (technology).
Ms. Wexler stated she knows of Roy Rogers of IBI and formerly of the Arvida Corporation. Ms. Wexler stated Mr. Rogers has no influence over the school board and is mostly smoke and mirrors.
Ms. Wexler stated that Ms. Kraft wanted school board General Counsel Edward Marko “gone” from day one. Ms. Wexler stated this was exacerbated by a lawsuit referred to as CCC. The suit had to do with a segregation and integration issue. The allegation dealt with the manner in which the SBBC handled minorities. Ms. Wexler stated there was “head to head” contact between Mr. Marko and the lawyers from the other side. Ms. Wexler stated she believed there was a conflict between Mr. Marko’s conservatism and personal values and the contents of the suit itself.
Ms. Wexler stated she had always thought that Mr. Marko was over worked or slow but feels that looking back on it now, there might have been “outside forces” working on Mr. Marko.

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