In September New Times reveals that superintendent Roger Cuevas and a few dozen of his top administrators received graduate degrees from diploma mills, a loophole that allowed many of them to take shortcuts to higher-paying administrative jobs. (Cuevas's 1974 master's degree in curriculum instruction comes from the University of Northern Colorado's Center for Special and Advanced Programs, a nonaccredited, now-defunct weekend-study program considered a diploma mill by academics.)
In March the Greater Miami Athletic Conference (GMAC) investigates Miami High's basketball team for apparent violations of eligibility, recruiting, and residency rules. In August the Florida High School Activities Association strips the school of its championship title, declares some athletes ineligible, forfeits victories in baseball and soccer, and fines the school $7500. The GMAC bans the boys' basketball and baseball teams from GMAC postseason competition the following year. A few weeks later Cuevas declares the school system will not investigate athletic violations from previous years but vows harsh penalties for any future infractions.
In July Cuevas makes spokesman Henry Fraind his well-paid right-hand man. Board member Manty Sabates Morse wonders aloud why the promotion and a nice salary increase were added to the board agenda just one hour before it was approved.
In February the school board pays one million dollars to the sexual-harassment victims of former Northwestern High principal William Clarke III. In June Cuevas makes him an administrator in the district's attendance office with a $70,000 annual salary, a $20,000 pay cut.
In March a split board votes to make Johnny Brown the district's chief attorney. Manty Sabates Morse is disappointed, saying her colleagues collaborated to pick board chairman Solomon Stinson's friend rather than perform a national search. The same day the board buys a defunct nursery for $800,000 for a horticultural school administrators already had determined was too expensive to start up.
In June the school board pays out another one million dollars to the sexual-harassment victims of former Merrick Educational Center principal Michael Exelbert. Cuevas transferred Exelbert to an $80,000 desk job (a $10,000 pay cut) in the transportation department.
In August the board buys a piece of land for a high school in South Miami-Dade, paying $2.35 million more than the sellers had forked over for it. Some of the land was purchased by the sellers only days before it was resold to the district. The Miami Herald's account of this deal later prompts investigations by the State Attorney's Office and state auditors.
In November New Times chronicles a football training program run by Frank Gachelin for Jackson High. GMAC once again investigates. Jackson's football team is forced to forfeit its entire season, six players are declared ineligible, the athletic director loses his job, the school is fined $1000, and Gachelin is ordered to sever his ties with the football program. In the year that follows, the ineligible players regain permission to play for Jackson, and Gachelin's operation continues.
In January schools police Chief Vivian Monroe is demoted for repeated instances of bad judgment, such as interfering with investigations of school-district employees with whom she is personally acquainted. Monroe's new job is overseeing a half-dozen investigators, yet she keeps her $89,000 salary. Cuevas later hires veteran Miami-Dade County cop Pete Cuccaro as chief and pays him $113,000.
In February Cuevas and Fraind take umbrage at the suggestion that their relatives got jobs in a controversial program to train welfare recipients. After investigation it is determined that while no rules were broken in hiring the relatives, the school system is paying some employees with lesser credentials and educational levels as much or more than others for the same job.
In March the school board decides to take Fraind's spokesperson duties away from him after almost ten years, criticizing him for his dealings with the public and the media. The final straw comes after he refuses to let the Oprah show film a positive story at William H. Turner Technical Arts High. During the board meeting, the eloquent Fraind makes a vulgar "up yours" gesture -- caught on tape -- after a parent suggests the board should cut his pay along with his spokesman duties.
In June four parents launch an unsuccessful suit to force the school board to fix fire and safety code violations at almost 200 public schools around the county. In an unrelated event, Office of Professional Standards executive director Norman Lindeblad is arrested off Biscayne Boulevard for picking up an undercover Miami cop he thought was a hooker. The man who once directed investigations of other school district employees for moral lapses is transferred to a desk job to wait out his retirement.
In February eight school board members vote to extend Cuevas's contract until 2004, after an orchestrated praise-fest that lasts three hours. Marta Perez walks out rather than vote, upset that the board refuses to evaluate the superintendent's performance before keeping him on the payroll. The extension comes a week after a grand jury report faults the district for allowing fire-safety hazards in schools and construction-cost overruns.
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In March assistant schools police chief José F. Gonzalez agrees to a plea deal and resigns in return for not being tried in court for his alleged part in a murder conspiracy connected to the infamous 1980s Miami River Cops case.
A state audit criticizes the school district's land-acquisition program, saying it overpaid by a total of $7 million in several different deals. The report also notes that more than $97 million has been shifted to pet construction projects pushed by school board members. On the plus side, most recent construction projects came in under budget.
In April state lawmakers impose an oversight board that will have final say over any land purchases the school board makes. They also decide to send a state auditor for one year to review district spending.
In May Roger Cuevas finally starts talking tough. He promises to find out what happened on the land deals and "take corrective action." He promises to downsize the bureaucracy and turn it into a more professional organization. He promises to require ethics training for all employees.