By: Sharon Aron Baron
An accountant who has announced her candidacy for school board wants to make it her mission to hold the right people accountable and ensure the $800 million bond promises are kept, especially to long-neglected schools.
Dr. Nathalie Lynch Walsh is no stranger to Broward County Public Schools. She currently serves as chair of the Facilities Task Force and is a member of the Audit Committee. Determined to improve the schools in her community, she gained board approval for magnet programs at Plantation Middle and Plantation High. She is also a member of the Plantation Middle School Advisory Council and vice chair of the Plantation Education Advisory Board.
Born to an English mother and a Trinidadian father, Lynch-Walsh grew up in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands where she was immersed in cultural, racial and ethnic diversity.
“It’s a very pretty place, but it’s a hard place to grow up in that everything costs more. The luxury items are cheap and the essentials are expensive. The Coke costs more than the rum,” she said laughing.
She said that growing up in the Virgin Islands is a bit insulating because you’re on an island, “But as a culture, they didn’t have a lot of patience for nonsense. I guess that’s the best way I can put it. Which I guess is reflected in my approach to what I’ve been doing the past five years. No patience for that.” She said it’s because they worry about bigger things like hurricanes, the high cost of electricity, and the fact that they can’t get a part for their car for a month and other basic issues. She enjoyed growing up and being able to go to the beach, but at the same time, she learned to get along with 54,000 people crammed on to a 32 square mile island.
After earning her bachelor’s degree in accounting with honors from Ft. Lewis College, she moved to Florida where she rose through the ranks of corporate accounting while earning an MBA from Florida Atlantic University and passing the CPA exam. A strong believer in life-long learning, she decided to go back to school, where she enrolled in Lynn University’s Global Leadership program and received a doctorate.
As a member of the Facilities Task Force, the committee that makes sure that the district spends its facilities related money wisely, she said she learned a lot as a member and chair. However, after some time, she felt like she was having the same conversations with the same people about the same things, and once she got to that point, that was when she could do all she could in her current capacity. She felt like she needed to either walk away completely or get into a position to put policies in place that would ensure that the mistakes that they were seeing would not keep happening.
We witnessed the superintendent either lying to them or being woefully uninformed. I don’t know which one it is.” Dr. Nathalie Lynch-Walsh
“The construction delays that we were seeing were the result of the same mistakes being made by the same people and sometimes different people over and over again and that’s no way to manage a process. It’s $800 million and we’re all on the hook for this for years. We need to make sure these problems don’t happen, and I don’t have a high degree of confidence that can happen under the current leadership.”
Who’s in Charge?
Lynch-Walsh recalls an instance last fall when the school board failed the voters by hiring Chief Facilities Officer Leo Bobadilla. Once his name was released, everyone started researching him, and discovered that in Houston, where he was from, their bond program was $200 million in the hole and there was an audit involved that he had responded to. However, Superintendent Runcie insisted to the board there was no audit. Some members of the board wanted to see an audit and wait, but the majority of the board members did not want to wait to hire him. They trusted Runcie and believed there was no audit.
“The next day [the audit] was released which didn’t paint a pretty picture,” said Lynch-Walsh. “The board could have let someone go within 90 days. They chose not to do it. The thing of it is, they established a precedence that day. We witnessed the superintendent either lying to them or being woefully uninformed. I don’t know which one it is. He also turned a corner that day, he flat out said to them that day ‘there is no audit’ and then it was proven there was an audit the next day.”
Unfortunately, she said that one vote couldn’t have changed the outcome when there are many board members in the majority wanting to vote him through and said more board members are needed in the majority who are willing to do the right thing which would have been to at least wait a day. “It’s not like they couldn’t call a special school board meeting.”
Lynch-Walsh said that the board forgets that the superintendent is their employee, so they basically let him know that day, that they were okay with letting him do with whatever he wanted to do. She believes the majority, not all of them, but at least five members take the lead from Runcie on any given day. She said this was also an issue with the school board back in the last Grand Jury report, on facilities related matters where they criticized that board for relying too much on the superintendent for their information and suggested they educate themselves on facilities-related construction matters.
“But that hasn’t happened here, and so as long as you have at least five members willing to take the lead from Mr. Runcie we’re going to have that decision being made, and him not being held accountable. “
$800 Million Bonds
Lynch-Walsh has first-hand experience with procurement and doesn’t have a lot of confidence in the process.
“They just hired a new director and the manager over there – neither of whom appear to have experience in government procurement. And yet, the director is the person in charge of the $800 million bond program in terms of procuring the construction and professional services.”
Currently there are three design builds for Stranahan, Northeast and Blanch Ely High Schools. She said that Stranahan and Northeast were the poster children for the bonds and were the two schools that were used as the reason for needing bond money. Plans were once again rejected on March 31, creating a three or four month delay until they can rebid the projects. This was the third meeting she has attended without awarding a contract creating another construction delay because something was done incorrectly.
“You could say it’s Maurice Woods, because procurement falls under him, you could say it’s facilities because it’s new construction, but ultimately it’s the superintendent and then ultimately it’s the board approving everything he does and not holding him accountable when he fails,” she said.
She emailed me after the interview and said the delay will be addressed at the April 12 board workshop.
Lynch-Walsh said that she would like to see the district as dedicated to communications on a day-to-day basis as they were when they wanted the parents to vote for the $800 million bond because they were relentless – and effective.
“Runcie’s background is in IT, and yet you’d never know that because the communications between schools and parents are very much like they were 20 years ago. For instance, if a parent wants to come speak at a board meeting, they must do it by telephone. Ironically, Chicago public schools, where Runcie is from, allows registration online,” she said.
Another issue is that there are all these parent volunteer advisory groups offering feedback and there is no evidence that this feedback is ever acted upon. Typically, she says they don’t offer much change from these forums, and advisory committees unless it was something administration was going to do anyway. There should be a timeline involved for the district to respond, and if it’s something that’s feasible, then it should be implemented.
“How do you expect to keep people motivated when everything they suggest to you is not acted upon.”
Lynch-Walsh is a 20 year resident of Plantation where she lives with her husband and two children. Find out more at Nathalie Lynch-Walsh This election is August 30, 2016. She is running for School Board District 5 which Rosalind Osgood now sits.
District 5 covers:
Plantation – North of Broward Blvd East of Nob Hill east to 7th Ave