Posted on Mon, May. 12, 2003

Grand jury critical of mold cleanup efforts

A Broward grand jury has blasted the School Board's efforts to eradicate mold and mildew from dozens of schools, saying the school district never took the problem seriously or committed enough resources to fix it.

The 89-page report released Monday also predicts a rash of potentially costly lawsuits from teachers and parents if the School Board doesn't improve clean-up efforts.

It suggests that a state oversight board -- similar to one that has power over Miami-Dade's school construction program -- could be necessary if the School Board doesn't speed up the clean-up.

One positive note: Some of the schools built since 1999 appear to be well-constructed.

''The School Board has now realized how essential it is to build schools that don't leak,'' said Assistant State Attorney John Countryman, who conducted the yearlong investigation. ``It's basic, but it wasn't getting through to them back before.''

Still, the grand jury found problems that extended past mold and mildew:

 It criticized the influence lobbyists have when the School Board selects contractors.

 It found the school district was still occupying buildings before they were finished. The grand jury cited a classroom addition at Norcrest Elementary, which opened over the objections of a building inspector, with two weeks left in the 2002-03 school year. And it questioned the January 2003 opening of a replacement school for Rock Island Elementary.

2003 The Miami Herald and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.