Kenneth Preston is another side of the Parkland shooting story. The hushed-up school-safety side.
This 19-year-old home-schooled Broward County student isn't about guns, isn't interested in feeding into the election-year politics of any party's agenda, hasn't gathered admiring Hollywood friends to bankroll a national revolt.
All he's done since the Valentine's Day serial shooting of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is spend more than 100 hours searching through thousands of pages of local government documents that most taxpayers would never dream of reading.
He's spoken with dozens of school and law enforcement officials, parents of victims and members of the media. The kind of investigation you would expect only from a well-trained special prosecutor.
The story first was reported by DML News but avoided by most mainstream media who chose instead to expend their resources on the Washington anti-guns march.
Immediately after the story became public, Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie tweeted out a message calling it "fake news."
What Preston alleges is that the Broward school system, superintendent and School Board members in particular, are directly responsible for shooter Nikolas Cruz and the student and teacher deaths not only by their liberal policies, but by holding back money directly intended to address school safety.
Preston has written a stunning report. Read it here, as posted by TheHill.com.
Not only does the young man reveal how the district deals with students who fall into the PROMISE program, and how students with the worst crimes imaginable are eligible in many cases to be placed back into the mainstream, he dives into the money trail that leads to questions about the amount of potential corruption that might be festering within the sixth largest school district in America.
Here's an excerpt from Preston's report:
“In 2014, Superintendent Runcie successfully convinced Broward residents to vote on $800 million in bonds for Broward County Public Schools to invest back into the schools. According to The Qualification Selection Evaluation Committee (QSEC), an anti-corruption measure, there should be a committee of 11 people, five of whom are members from the public, that would decide what companies were given lucrative contracts to manage that $800,000,000 in voter approved projects.
"Just a year later, Runcie, who was tasked with bringing transparency to the board, moved to bypass those anti-corruption measures by removing members of the public from voting on who received the contracts. School Board member Robin Bartleman opposed removing the public from the decisions saying, 'It’s going to be an issue.' She went on to say, 'Stuff like this snowballs. Things like this get out of control. I’ve seen it before.'"
Preston points out the board was given roughly $104 million in public grants to secure the schools in 2014, but as of 2018 only $5 million had been spent, leaving nearly $100 million unaccounted for. Where did the money go?
Preston has been holding back his report from public consumption. He wanted to wait until Tuesday's School Board meeting to make it all public. He had planned to appear with Andy Pollack, father of slain Stoneman student Meadow Pollack, and six others. But Runcie and the board foiled him.
"... Moments before the April 10 hearing was to begin," reported DML News in a Wednesday story, "the board took action to reject seven of the speakers the 19-year-old had brought with him to help defend his report, some of them (like Andy Pollack) family members of victims in the Stoneman shooting. Furthermore, Preston was limited to three minutes of presentation time versus the original six minutes he was scheduled."
Amid a packed audience of Parkland community members, Preston spoke for just over two minutes at the board meeting. Instead of trying to tell the report's full story in a couple of sound bytes, he talked about the unsavory events of the day before the meeting, when Runcie called him into his office for a meeting to discuss his findings.
Preston said he asked Runcie ahead of time if he could tape-record their conversation; the superintendent said no. He asked if he could bring an attorney; the superintendent again said no.
But Runcie showed up to the meeting with 10 school district representatives, "making it an ambush-style meeting that lasted two-hours." According to Preston, the meeting was an attempt to “reeducate him” about what he learned during his investigation.
In his report, Preston references the PROMISE program prominently, which Sunshine State News first exposed as a Broward Schools' favorite in a story Feb. 28. He says PROMISE makes it so school districts must limit the punishments and reporting to authorities of unruly and or criminal students if they are minorities. If they fail to abide by the PROMISE program practices, the district risks losing grant money from the federal government.
Oh, yes, and Preston has evidence criminal students with a history of rape and severe violence are permitted to attend public schools in Broward.
It beats me why, two months after the mass slaying, this alleged behavior on the part of Broward school officials isn't major national news. Think of how many school systems could learn from the mistakes made here. Don't taxpayers/parents deserve to know?
Kenneth Preston should have our thanks for his ruthless persistence in his senior year of high school. So, too, should Gov. Rick Scott and state lawmakers for insisting on a very thorough dissection of all forces at work in the Parkland tragedy.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith