Monitoring and Oversight of General Obligation Bonds to Improve Broward County Schools:
SMART Program Quarterly Report Review for the Quarter Ended June 30, 2022
The Broward County Public Schools’ Bond Oversight Committee Quarterly Report for the Quarter Ended June 30, 2022 (“District Quarterly Report”) provides updated information on the implementation of the District’s SMART Program and the use of general obligation bond funds to purchase and install technology upgrades, purchase music and arts equipment, improve school safety and security, upgrade athletic facilities, and renovate educational facilities.
- Single Point of Entry Security Projects - Completed at all 238 schools
- Music Equipment - Completed at all 195 identified schools.
- Art Equipment - Completed at all 136 identified schools.
- Theater Equipment - Completed at all 40 identified schools.
- Track Projects: Completed at all identified schools.
- Weight Rooms - Completed at all 30 identified schools.
- Technology - Completed at all 230 identified schools.
Additional SMART Program safety improvements include such things as fire sprinklers, fire alarms, emergency exit signage/lighting improvements, fencing, and door hardware. These improvements are bundled together as part of Primary Renovations projects. In response to concerns by Committee member Demopoulos, Florida TaxWatch has done a deeper dive and reviewed the School Spotlights (reference pages 65 through 363) for each school to determine the status of Primary Renovations projects with scopes of work that include one or more activities related to student safety and security (e.g., fire alarms and sprinklers, emergency exit signage, lightning protection, etc.). Florida TaxWatch identified 141 such projects. Their completion is tied to the schedule for the Primary Renovations projects into which they are bundled; however, 82 of these Primary Renovations projects are “flagged” for schedule delays, 15 are flagged with budget issues, and the remaining 45 projects are not flagged and are presumed to be on schedule. These flagged Primary Renovations projects are identified in Table 2.
Primary Renovations update:
The District identified 37 projects (reference page 44) that, at the end of the reporting period, are experiencing schedule variances. Twenty-five (25) of the delayed projects are 95 percent or more completed. A review of the School Spotlights for each school by Florida TaxWatch, however, suggests that the District has significantly underreported the number of Primary Renovations projects that have been flagged for schedule issues. The School Spotlights contained in the Q4 2021-22 Report show the following 126 Primary Renovations projects as being flagged for schedule issues.
- RECOMMENDATION 1 Florida TaxWatch recommends District staff explain to the Bond Oversight Committee at its September 19, 2022, meeting: (1) the apparent underreporting of Primary Renovations projects that were flagged for schedule issues in the District’s Q4 2021-22 Report; and (2) if correct, the potential impact on the 2020 Schedule.
- RECOMMENDATION 2 Florida TaxWatch recommends District staff brief the BOC at its September 19, 2022, meeting on the 35 high-risk (red) Primary Renovations projects, including efforts to mitigate the high risk.
Change order update:
It has been explained to the Committee that the average time required to navigate the change order process is 192 days. It has been explained to the Committee that the SBBC has a policy that permits the Superintendent to approve change orders up to $25,000; however, the SBBC has ostensibly given “verbal direction” to the Superintendent not to approve any change orders. It should be noted that, according to District staff, approximately 85 percent of all change orders are below the $25,000 threshold.
Most change orders are the result of unforeseen conditions; however, only 15 of the 56 change orders approved during Q4 2021-22 were due to unforeseen conditions. It is important to note that more than half (59 percent) of the change orders approved during Q4 2021-22 were due to either an omission or error by the consultant. The additional cost to the District is more than $465,000.
- RECOMMENDATION 3 Florida TaxWatch recommends the SBBC delegate authority to approve change orders less than $15,000 to the Superintendent or other senior official.
- RECOMMENDATION 4 Florida TaxWatch recommends District staff brief the Bond Oversight Committee at its September 19, 2022, meeting on (1) the reasons for so many change orders being due to consultant errors or omissions; and (2) the status of efforts to recover funds paid to consultants for their errors or omissions.
Big 3 schools update:
In its review of the District’s Q3 2021-22 Report, Florida TaxWatch found the District’s summary of the status of Primary Renovations projects at the “Big 3” schools to be misleading and incomplete, and recommended that future District reports provide a concise, complete, and balanced summary that is consistent with, and not in conflict with, information contained on the School Spotlight for each school. Despite the heightened sensitivity of the status of Primary Renovations projects at the “Big 3” schools and the BOC’s requests for accurate information on the status of these renovations, the “Big 3 Schools Update” section of the District Q4 2021-22 Report (reference pages 32 through 36) continues to provide a misleading and incomplete summary of the status of Primary Renovations projects at the Big 3 schools.
- RECOMMENDATION 8 Florida TaxWatch recommends that future District quarterly SMART Program reports include a section summarizing the status of the Big 3 schools that is concise, complete and balanced. Information included in this summary should be consistent with, and not conflict with, information on the School Spotlight for each Big 3 school.
School choice enhancement:
School Choice Enhancement Project (SCEP) projects are budgeted at $100,000, and the scope of the capital project (e.g., electronic marquees, shade structures, playgrounds, etc.) is determined by a vote of the teachers, staff, and parents of students at the school. As of June 30, 2022, the number of SCEP projects in the Planning Phase decreased from five to four.
The SMART Program total budget has
increased from $1.442 billion in Q3 2021-22 to $1.506 billion in Q4 2021-22, a net increase of about $63.4 million (see Figure 6). This represents an increase of about $518.6 million over the original budget of $987.4 million ($800 million GOB funds plus $187.4 million in existing capital resources).
- RECOMMENDATION 9 Florida TaxWatch reiterates its previous recommendation that, if it appears that the District may exhaust the remaining unspent SMART Program funds before the planned facilities construction projects have been completed, District staff should be prepared to present to the Bond Oversight Committee at its September 19, 2022 meeting the plan to make up the shortfall.
Financial risk update:
Florida TaxWatch considers the issue of financial risk to be the greatest concern and controlling project costs and mitigating the additional financial risk to be the greatest challenge facing the District as SMART project implementation moves forward. It has been previously understood that higher rates of inflation, higher roofing and mechanical/ electrical/fire protection costs, and items that were excluded from the original scopes of work would increase the costs of SMART Program construction projects. The most recent (June 2022) assessment of financial risk prepared by Atkins3 reflects the continued escalation of financial risk. The potential risk outcomes represent a significant change from the previous (March 2022) assessment. Atkins estimates the SMART Program financial risk will range from a low (mid- point risk) of $689 million to a high (high end risk) of $706 million, with a most likely estimate (70 percent risk) near $692 million.
- RECOMMENDATION 10 Florida TaxWatch recommends District staff brief the Bond Oversight Committee at its September 19, 2022, meeting of its plan to secure additional funds in reserve to cover the additional financial risk associated with the most likely estimate (70 percent risk) of $692 million and the high end (100 percent) risk scenario of $706 million.
- RECOMMENDATION 11 Florida TaxWatch recommends District staff clarify for the Bond Oversight Committee at its September 19, 2022, meeting the current balance of funds in reserve.
With the release of the Final Report of the Twentieth Statewide Grand Jury and the subsequent removal and replacement of four elected SBBC members, it would be an understatement to say that the District faces a considerable amount of uncertainty as it continues its implementation of the SMART Program. Florida TaxWatch strongly urges the SBBC to support Superintendent Cartwright as she and her leadership team take appropriate actions to ensure that the remaining Primary Renovations projects, especially those that include activities designed to improve school safety and security, are implemented on-time, on-budget, and in scope. The Grand Jury’s findings notwithstanding, the District continues to make progress in implementing the SMART Program.
- Construction schedule resets.
- Primary Renovation Projects delays (although there is some progress).
- Schedule-related issues
- Change orders
- Building department delays
- Vendor Accountability
- School Choice enhancement program
- The "Big 3 Schools"
- Financial risk
- Reserve funding
- Supplier diversity and outreach