Bad Apple

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Then Crew lectures the parents. "It is wrong that you only come down here once in a while when I talk about shutting something down. People flew down here from wherever. I am not impressed. You need to flip the culture of this school."

Despite the impressive display of authority, Crew's reaction to the Northwestern affair is much like his response to scandals that plagued him in Tacoma and New York: too little too late. One person who escaped punishment is Ronda Vangates, a high-level district administrator who reports directly to Crew. Vangates is a political heavy hitter. In previous jobs, she served as an aide to county Commissioner Barbara Carey-Shuler and chief of staff to Miami Mayor Joe Carollo. Crew hired her in 2005 as an administrative assistant and legislative liaison. A Northwestern alum and a nonpracticing attorney, Vangates was promoted last year to director of the district's Civilian Investigative Unit. She earns an annual $95,000 salary.

According to a June 5 Miami-Dade grand jury report on the Northwestern affair, Vangates "made efforts to halt the criminal investigation" into school employees who had covered up the sex allegations. Vangates sent Northwestern's then-Principal Dwight Bernard and other district employees an e-mail asserting she had directed Miami-Dade School Police to cease their probe.

The grand jury concluded that "this e-mail was profoundly upsetting, troubling, and offensive.... The unthinkable was that non-police personnel could have the audacity and apparent authority to interfere with an otherwise valid criminal investigation."

Vangates has maintained she thought it was a matter for Crew's office, not the police, to probe. The grand jury didn't buy her excuse: "We find it unreasonable and unbelievable that it was not known this was a criminal investigation ... [and it] was halted in its tracks before it was complete, before all statements were taken, before any assessments could be made, and certainly before anyone could be arrested."

Since the scandal broke, only one person has been arrested in the coverup: Principal Bernard, who was charged June 6 with felony official misconduct. He was reassigned to a desk job. Crew fired the school's football coaches and promised to get rid of the Northwestern employees who knew of but failed to report the claim. But he has not taken responsibility for his administration's role in the scandal. This irks school board member Rivas Logan. "If you know a crime was being committed, you report it. And his administration did not report it."

Meanwhile Crew has reassigned Vangates to another post: director of performance management, curriculum, and instruction. So the woman who allegedly hampered a criminal investigation will now hold sway over how teachers instruct their students.

Several hours after the camera crews and Northwestern acolytes left the school board chambers, Crew ran into a buzz saw when members began discussing his annual performance bonus. Board member Evelyn Greer proposed a figure of $41,000. Those present deadlocked.

Then Renier Diaz de la Portilla suggested Crew receive $20,000. That didn't go anywhere either. "A 420 percent increase in the number of F schools is simply not acceptable," said Rivas Logan. Later she added, "Personally I want to put [Crew] on notice. There has to be a consequence."

Responds Crew supporter and board chairman Agustin Barrera: "Sometimes we all get frustrated. I remember just four years ago the district was in disrepair. We had a state oversight board watching us. I think we are going in the right direction. One of our biggest challenges has been leadership in our schools. Dr. Crew addressed that."

While the school board continues to discuss the superintendent's merits, it appears he is looking for a new job.

Of course he is well paid. Under his current package, Crew receives $315,000. And the school district provides a pension and health benefits, reimburses his travel expenses, and even pays a $1200 stipend for his home office, from Internet service to computer equipment. (Back in 2004, to woo the superintendent, millionaire and onetime school board member Paul Cejas gave Crew a $240,000 loan to help pay for his $840,000 three-bedroom house in Coconut Grove.)

He apparently wants even more. According to news reports in Miami and Washington, D.C., Crew was not long ago the leading candidate to replace D.C. Superintendent Clifford Janey. On April 11, former Miami New Times columnist Jim DeFede reported on his WINZ-AM (940) radio program that D.C. was willing to pay Crew between $600,000 and $900,000 to lure him away from Miami-Dade. Crew, a guest on the show, responded, "There are other school districts. Certainly the Washington, D.C. scenario is very real."

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.