Bad Apple

It's July 13, and in an effort to evade the brutal midafternoon sun, Cesar Ramirez cools off in the shade of a tree near the entrance of Allapattah Middle School. The wiry Puerto Rican waits for his daughter Amanda to emerge through the turquoise-color doors. From 8:00 to 4:00 Monday through Friday, the 14-year-old attends summer camp at Allapattah.

Two days earlier, Ramirez says, he called the school board to complain about embattled Miami-Dade County Schools Superintendent Rudy Crew. "Look at what he has done," Ramirez sneers. "He's wasted all this money and my daughter's school gets an F. It is unbelievable how they throw away money at the district."

Some 20 miles west, in Miami-Dade's second-largest municipality, Maria Otero says it's time for Crew to go. Her 15-year-old son Gus is entering his sophomore year at Hialeah Senior High. After maintaining a C for two years, Hialeah was one of 10 high schools that sunk to F this year. "I hope the school board removes him," Otero says as she gets into her car parked in the Hialeah High faculty lot. "He has not done a good job."

Once hailed as a savior for the nation's fourth-largest school system, Crew is in deep trouble these days. Not only Allapattah and Hialeah have failed their students, but also 24 other schools Crew once pledged to save. A much-publicized sex scandal at Miami Northwestern Senior High recently earned the superintendent a rebuke from a Miami-Dade County grand jury.

And now the school system faces a series of lawsuits and other controversies related to his autocratic behavior, which could cost taxpayers big. In the past two months, New Times has interviewed the superintendent's critics and reviewed hundreds of pages of legal documents, employee complaints, audits, and criminal probes that call into question both Crew's competence and his credibility. A picture has emerged of a poor chief executive who will do almost anything to enhance his image as an education reformer, even if it means protecting corrupt but loyal administrators or firing those who expose misconduct.

Crew, who earns a salary and benefits worth a half-million dollars a year, declined two requests to meet and answer questions. He also did not respond to a letter and a two-page list of questions e-mailed and faxed to his secretary, Helen Matthews, and his chief information officer, Felipe Noguera.

Indeed it seems Crew is repeating mistakes he made while leading school districts in Tacoma and New York City, where he worked before coming to the subtropics. "The taxpayers of Dade County are starting to realize they are being given snake oil as the cure for cancer," says Herbert Cousins, the district's former inspector general, whose contract was not renewed after he fell out of favor with Crew and some school board members. "The real victims are the kids because they are being shortchanged by Rudy Crew."

Miami-Dade School Board member Marta Perez is sitting on a red antique sofa in the eclectically decorated living room of her one-story Coral Gables residence. Dressed in a green plaid short-sleeve shirt, khaki capri pants, and sensible shoes, she reminisces about the first and last time she dined with Rudy Crew, back in May 2004. Perez had been the only school board member to vote against Crew's appointment as superintendent a few months before. "He wasn't my choice, but he was somebody I needed to work with," she recollects in a sweet voice that belies her tenacious spirit. "The last thing I wanted to have was a bad relationship with the superintendent."

So a few days after Crew officially began his new job, Perez took him to Versailles, the venerable Cuban-American restaurant on SW Eighth Street that's a hub for local politics. As they chatted about challenges facing the school district, restaurant patrons stopped to greet Crew. "Everybody recognized him," she says. "He was nice and we talked, but I don't think he was really interested in being there."

Today Perez remains arguably the superintendent's most adamant opponent; last year she sued Crew and the school board to force release of public information she had requested, including costs for renovating school board offices and a list of employees who are paid more than $100,000. The board member says Crew is a self-promoter. "Our number one priority is to make sure our students compete in a global market and make them, not Rudy Crew, shine," she says.

Born September 10, 1950, in Poughkeepsie, New York, Rudy was reared by his father, Eugene Crew, a clarinetist. His mother died of cancer when he was two years old. After completing college and earning a Ph.D. in education from the University of Massachusetts, Crew spent his early adult life as a teacher and principal in California. In the early Eighties he landed a deputy superintendent job in Boston.