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Facing perjury charges, Florida superintendent offers to step down to give ‘peace’ to Parkland survivors

Following his arrest on a perjury charge, Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie on April 27 released a video saying he believes he will be vindicated. (Video: Broward County Public Schools)

Correction: This story originally stated that Robert W. Runcie had stepped down as superintendent in Broward County, Fla. In fact, he has offered to resign but the school board must vote on the move.

After he was charged with lying to a grand jury earlier this month, Robert W. Runcie insisted he would “be vindicated.”

The schools superintendent in Broward County, Fla. had spent years battling accusations tied to his leadership before and after the Parkland school shooting — and the indictment, he claimed, was simply another politically motivated attack tied to the massacre.

Yet, less than 24 hours after saying as much in a video on Tuesday, Runcie appeared to change his tune.

“I will step aside so you can have the peace you are looking for,” he told Broward school board member Lori Alhadeff in a meeting later that night. Her 14-year-old daughter Alyssa was one of 17 people killed in the mass shooting in February 2018.

Runcie’s resignation offer marks the latest turn in a contentious struggle over school safety measures that has long embroiled the Broward school district, the nation’s sixth-largest, over its darkest episode.

As parents and officials continue to point fingers over the failures that preceded the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a wide-ranging grand jury investigation has been tasked with probing “possible failures in following school-related safety laws and mismanaging funds solicited for school safety initiatives,” according to Florida state officials.

At a special Broward school board meeting on Tuesday, Runcie said he was offering to step down over the accusations he faced over the massacre — not over a felony perjury charge for allegedly lying to that grand jury. Barbara J. Myrick, the school district’s top lawyer, also said she would offer to resign after being indicted on similar charges.

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Runcie, a former businessman and Chicago schools administrator, arrived in Broward County in 2011 with a plan to improve technology and efficiency. He focused on expanding career and technical programs, creating a military academy, and ramping up speech and debate.

He drew particular attention for an alternative disciplinary program, “Promise,” which looked to offer early behavioral intervention for students accused of nonviolent misdemeanor offenses. In 2017, the Broward school board extended his contract for the second time.

But the following year, a former student in the district — who had once been referred to the “Promise” program — opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, killing 17 people in the nation’s deadliest high school shooting.

Almost immediately in the wake of the massacre, Runcie and other local officials began to receive criticism for allegedly creating conditions that led up to the shooting. As the Florida legislature passed a raft of school safety laws, Alhadeff and some other Parkland parents pointed fingers at the superintendent.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who was then campaigning for his post, vowed to remove Runcie. When he conceded he could not do so by law — the superintendent post is controlled by school board members — DeSantis impaneled a grand jury to probe whether the state’s school districts were following safety rules.

Runcie and Broward County have in recent years faced accusations of falsifying school crime rates, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported. Among other issues, the grand jury has investigated their transparency over these statistics as well as their use of a bond measure partially meant for campus safety improvements.

The grand jury heard testimony from Runcie on March 31 and April 1, though it is unclear what exactly he said in the hearing to lead the grand jury to indict him last week with perjury, a felony. He was arrested and briefly taken into custody.

But according to the Sun-Sentinel, prosecutors say that Runcie lied when asked about a criminal case pending before a former Broward schools official. Although he claimed not to know about a contract at question in that case, prosecutors said, Runcie had been in touch with witnesses to prepare for his own testimony.

Myrick was also arrested last Wednesday in connection to the statewide grand jury investigation, allegedly for contacting witnesses and discussing them with Runcie, according to the Sun-Sentinel.

In a nearly three-minute video following his arrest last week, Runcie said he would not be stepping down, adding: “It is a sad day in Broward County and across Florida when politics become more important than the interests of our students.”

At a special school board meeting Tuesday, about 20 people — including clergy and local business leaders — praised Runcie’s leadership and criticized board members for having discussed the possibility of ending his contract following the indictment.

The district’s separation agreements with Runcie and Myrick could be voted on as early as Thursday. His lawyers have said he plans to plead not guilty to the perjury charge, which could carry up to five years in prison.