On a horrific Valentine’s Day in 2018, 17 students and staffers were killed and 17 more were injured at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Since that tragic day, Broward County school superintendent Robert W. Runcie has been in the national spotlight.
Following the shootings, Runcie aggressively interjected himself into the legislative fight on the Second Amendment – and he has a First Amendment right to express his opinion. However, taxpayers have a right to ask whether their money is being wasted on unnecessary travel, lobbying activities, perks, and a super-sized salary.
It took just 37 days after the tragedy for Runcie to travel to Washington, D.C. and demonstrate in the "March For Our Lives" protest. Five trips later, in June, he attended a posh conference in Aspen, Colorado spending thousands of taxpayer dollars while presenting at "Ideas Festival."
Runcie booked thirteen taxpayer-paid trips in 2018, according to district travel records, and was out-of-district for 35-days. That’s the equivalent of seven full work weeks – after the tragedy.
Since February, we’ve arm-wrestled with the Runcie administration to procure public records related to his contract, compensation, and travel. We’ve filed numerous open-records requests, sent follow-up emails, and made phone calls.
Our auditors at OpenTheBooks.com estimate that Runcie will earn approximately $6.1 million from his hire date in October 2011 through the 2022/23 school year. This year alone, taxpayers will fund $564,266 in salary, perquisites, and pension/retirement benefits – not including travel costs. We reached out to him for comment, and those responses are published at the base of this column.
Just three-months before the tragedy, Runcie received a six-year contract extension worth an estimated $3.5 million in cash and benefits. It was an estimated $1 million increase over his previous six-year pay package.
Here’s a breakdown of Runcie’s perks and compensation:
Super-Sized Salary: Runcie earns a $357,577 base salary – that’s up from his initial pay of $275,000. His workday is defined as 7.5 hours and his hourly pay rate is $195 per hour. As of 2018, Runcie was the third most highly compensated K-12 educator in the state of Florida.
Travel: During calendar years 2017 and 2018, Runcie scheduled 36 trips to conferences and other events around the country. He was out-of-office during 79 workdays (16 full weeks). These junkets included visits to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Palo Alto, Boston, Chicago, Washington D.C., Phoenix, and three trips to Aspen, Colorado.
Just in base salary alone, at Runcie’s daily rate of $1400, taxpayers spent an estimated $110,000 on those 79 out-of-office travel days. It isn’t clear what educational purpose is served from being absent from school that much.
Insurance: Runcie receives fully paid health, vision, and dental insurance for his entire family. His Cadillac disability insurance plan covers replacement income up to $210,000 per year or $17,500 a month. Taxpayers pay the premiums on a $1 million life insurance plan and pay for a comprehensive medical exam annually.
Public pension: Like all other Broward County school employees, Runcie is a member of the Florida Retirement System. Runcie contributes 3% and the school contributes 8.47% of base salary. Over the 11-year term of his contract, taxpayers will contribute approximately $330,000.
More retirement plans: On top of the regular public pension for Runcie, the school board agreed to fund two additional, private, retirement plans for the superintendent. Since 2017, taxpayers shoveled $48,000 per year into Runcie’s 403(b) and 457 plans. By 2022, the cost to taxpayers will be $288,000.
Then, in 2021, there’s the $80,000 retirement bonus to upgrade Runcie’s state pension from eight-years of service credit to twelve-years. On top of it all, Runcie will also receive federal Social Security benefits.
We’re not against outstanding educators being fairly compensated. However, Runcie’s detractors question his competence – citing an alleged failure to act on warning signs of the Parkland killer. Some also claim Runcie created an environment in which student crimes and misbehaviors were underreported.
As late as November 2018, at the Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission hearing, Runcie admitted that even basic security measures of "hard-corners," "Code-Red," and emergency code policies still hadn’t been updated. It was a full ten-months after the massacre.
Regardless, the taxpayer cost of Runcie’s pay, perks, pension, and travel are excessive, and his legislative activism raises even more questions about the appropriateness of these public expenditures.
It’s time to bring the transparency revolution – and some accountability – to the Sunshine State.