Small minds were made up: Till was history

Miami Herald online Posted on Thu, Oct. 19, 2006

BY FRED GRIM
fgrimm@MiamiHerald.com

The School Board majority, for all its petulance, gets credit for something extraordinary.

The community response, as one person after another rose to speak to the firing of Superintendent Frank Till, revealed a unity among Broward's disparate groups that would have been hard to imagine before the board gave them common cause.

Union officers, PTA leaders, school activists, bankers, developers, elected officials, lobbyists, teachers and parents asked the board not to jettison the super. ''When do we ever agree on anything?'' asked union leader Jim Silvernale.

On Till, they agreed. When a board member said something in support of Till, the room broke into applause. When a board member criticized Till, it was the sound of one man clapping -- Barney Schlesinger, the perpetually disgruntled gadfly.

Stephanie Kraft, the board member who engineered Tuesday's coup, was unimpressed by so many pleas on behalf of Till. ''I don't believe this room represents all the community out there,'' she said.

PROTEST IGNORED

Her sentiment seemed at odds with her response last February, when she sided with a room full of parents in a losing board vote on the school start date. Kraft complained that the board majority had ignored those angry voices. That public hearing, she said, ``was a complete waste of everyone's time. It just reinforces everyone's stereotype about government.''

Kraft resurrected everyone's stereotype Tuesday, when she and her four allies shrugged off the public's pleas as uninformed blather. ''There are things we know that you don't understand,'' said Darla Carter, a board member notorious during her 10-year tenure for things she didn't understand.

But these were not a collection of no-account blowhards come for two minutes of empty prattle. They were civic leaders. They carried the weight of real constituencies. But the board majority paid no heed to the Broward Teachers Union and the Broward Alliance. They ignored PTA activists. They were unmoved by the eloquence of former developer and community activist Roy Rogers. Dan Reynolds, president of the Federation of Public Employees, warned the board that firing Till would demoralize the school district's workforce.

''I'm begging you not to do this,'' he said to a deaf board majority.

COMPROMISE REJECTED

The majority rejected a sensible compromise from longtime activist Charlotte Greenbarg, president of the Independent Voices for Better Education. They ignored Diane Veltri Bendekovic, a schoolteacher for 34 years, member of the City Council in Plantation, and the daughter of the iconic Frank Veltri, Plantation mayor from 1975 to 1999. Those speaking for Till on Tuesday surely represented ``the community out there.''

They reminded the board of the ineptness and inequities and misplaced priorities that disgraced the Broward school district before Till arrived.

They spoke of academic achievements under Till.

They spoke of the alliances Till formed with the business community and nonprofits. They spoke of the improbable good relationship he forged with the unions. With Tallahassee.

They questioned the timing of a vote that included Carter, who was rejected by two-thirds of the electorate in September. Who will be gone next month.

None of that mattered against the complaints that Till failed to communicate well with the board. That his backup material was not satisfactory.

Till's real problem was described nicely by Carter, ''We're like CEOs of a corporation,'' she said.

That CEO job description, of course, is supposed to belong to the school superintendent. But Till was up against CEO-size egos in desperate need of a lackey.

But give the board credit. For an afternoon, they inspired unity in Broward County.