Broward School Board agrees to $226,000-plus severance deal with its indicted top lawyer

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The Broward County School Board unanimously approved a more than $226,000 separation agreement Thursday with its top administrative lawyer, who has been indicted on a charge of revealing confidential grand jury proceedings.

General Counsel Barbara Myrick’s last day as a district employee will be June 30 as part of the agreement she negotiated with School Board Chair Rosalind Osgood on Wednesday and which the board voted 9-0 on Thursday.

The payout includes $84,654 of her annual $220,000 salary, another $60,946 in unused sick time, $54,121 in unused vacation time, $22,769 in retirement benefits and $3,858 in health benefits for a package totaling more than $226,300.

Myrick, 72, and Superintendent Robert Runcie, 59, were both indicted last month by a statewide grand jury looking into possible fraud relating to school districts soliciting and accepting school safety funds from the state.

Broward County School Board Superintendent Robert Runcie looks on during a School Board meeting on Tuesday, April 27, 2021, at the Kathleen C. Wright Administration Center. Runcie is charged with perjury after he was indicted by a statewide grand jury impaneled after the Parkland school shootings. He announced at the meeting that he would resign.
Broward County School Board Superintendent Robert Runcie looks on during a School Board meeting on Tuesday, April 27, 2021, at the Kathleen C. Wright Administration Center. Runcie is charged with perjury after he was indicted by a statewide grand jury impaneled after the Parkland school shootings. He announced at the meeting that he would resign.

The grand jury charged Runcie, who pleaded not guilty, with perjury in his testimony to the jury and Myrick with disclosing grand jury proceedings, which are sealed. Rather than plead guilty or not guilty, Myrick entered “stands mute,” meaning the court will enter a plea for her.

Both offered to step down last week at a School Board meeting.

Miami-Dade School Board attorney Walter J. Harvey looks on during a meeting on Wednesday, July 13, 2016. The Broward County School Board unanimously approved Miami-Dade County School Board Attorney Walter J. Harvey Tuesday, May 4, 2021, to help in the separation agreement negotiations between the board and its superintendent, Robert Runcie. Harvey is taking a two-day leave to work pro bono on the case.
Miami-Dade School Board attorney Walter J. Harvey looks on during a meeting on Wednesday, July 13, 2016. The Broward County School Board unanimously approved Miami-Dade County School Board Attorney Walter J. Harvey Tuesday, May 4, 2021, to help in the separation agreement negotiations between the board and its superintendent, Robert Runcie. Harvey is taking a two-day leave to work pro bono on the case.

Although all nine School Board members approved the severance package with Myrick, several on the dais came to her defense after Miami-Dade County School Board Attorney Walter J. Harvey, who is on a temporary leave and aiding Osgood in her negotiations, explained the three ways the district could end her employment — termination with or without cause or the separation agreement.

“She deserves a fair settlement like every other employee of this district does. The charges that have been brought against her, you are innocent until proven guilty,” Board Vice Chair Laurie Rich Levinson said. “And, so, that is absolutely no basis for how we should treat her as an employee for this district for 21 years.”

Broward Schools Superintendent Robert W. Runcie, left, talks to Broward School Board Vice Chair Laurie Rich Levinson before the start of the School Board meeting. The board convened a special meeting Thursday, April 29, 2021, so it can authorize the chair and the lawyers to begin a termination agreement with Runcie, who offered to resign on Tuesday following his April 15 indictment on a perjury charge related to a statewide grand jury investigation.
Broward Schools Superintendent Robert W. Runcie, left, talks to Broward School Board Vice Chair Laurie Rich Levinson before the start of the School Board meeting. The board convened a special meeting Thursday, April 29, 2021, so it can authorize the chair and the lawyers to begin a termination agreement with Runcie, who offered to resign on Tuesday following his April 15 indictment on a perjury charge related to a statewide grand jury investigation.

Myrick has worked for the district since 2002, initially working in programs for special needs students. She then went to law school, and the School Board appointed her general counsel in 2016.

“We had applications, but decided to take her from within to take the position because of her professionalism and integrity. So, to me, it’s disturbing to even talk about terminating her with cause. There is no cause to terminate Miss Myrick with,” Levinson said.

In her parting words Thursday, Myrick defended her and Runcie’s records.

“Mr. Runcie and I have worked tirelessly, and you all know that, to improve this district and continue to see that it operates in a professional manner for the children,” she said.

She said the progress the district made under Runcie’s leadership, and her legal counsel, is evidenced by its performance throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The best way to explain it is how well our schools shifted from in-person learning a year ago, to remote learning and then back to in-person learning without skipping a beat,” Myrick said.

Broward Schools attorney Barbara Myrick hides her face as she is released from the Broward County main detention center in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday, April 21, 2021.
Broward Schools attorney Barbara Myrick hides her face as she is released from the Broward County main detention center in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday, April 21, 2021.

In January, Runcie told the board, however, that of the district’s 203,884 students, almost 59,000 of them were “struggling academically, socially and emotionally,” due to remote learning during the pandemic. The Broward school district is the nation’s sixth largest.

The School Board is expected to discuss hiring or appointing an interim general counsel at its meeting Tuesday.

Osgood also negotiated the terms of Runcie’s separation Wednesday, but the talks stalled over the School Board possibly having to pay him an additional $400,000 on top of $137,000 in severance and $196,000 in accrued sick and vacation time.

That would bring Runcie’s total severance, if the Board were to approve the package, to more than $700,000. Runcie makes $356,000 a year.

Runcie’s attorney, Sherry Culves, detailed Wednesday at the School Board meeting how Runcie’s contract with the board calls for 90 days’ notice of termination. That means the district would be obligated to pay him until mid-August, a period in which he could help the next interim, acting or permanent superintendent transition to the job, she said.

He would then apply a portion of his unused sick and vacation time to get him to Oct. 5, which would be his 10th anniversary with the district.

Under the contract, if Runcie worked for the district for 10 years, the School Board would be responsible for paying him for up to four years’ worth of his retirement benefits stemming from his time working for the Chicago school system. Before being named Broward superintendent, Runcie was the chief of staff for the Chicago Board of Education.

Culves said the Chicago payment would be $400,000. Osgood called off Wednesday’s negotiations because she could not confirm that number. Talks are expected to resume Monday, and the board hopes to vote on a severance agreement with Runcie at its meeting Tuesday.

Part of Myrick’s agreement — and likely to be for Runcie’s as well — is that the School Board will pay for her legal representation as she fights the grand jury charge, brought by prosecutors with the Florida Attorney General’s Office in Tallahassee.

“In my experience, that has led to significant savings for school boards,” Harvey said.

He explained that if the district does not negotiate with the employee’s lawyer and agrees to pay the legal costs upfront for its employees accused of crimes, if those employees end up exonerated, the district is then responsible for reimbursing the lawyer bills after the fact, which could be hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“And, that is just simply because the attorneys’ billing rates are typically higher when you don’t have the opportunity to negotiate it. And number two, they tend to bill for just about everything rather than being more focused on issues that help get the case resolved,” Harvey said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis requested the grand jury in February 2019 after the Feb. 14, 2018, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings that left 17 students and faculty dead and 17 wounded.