Miami school district drops push to manage WLRN newsroom

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As the Miami school district and a fundraising group for public broadcaster WLRN negotiate a new operating agreement in coming weeks, one of the district’s most controversial proposals is reportedly off the table.

Alberto Carvlho, superintendent of the Miami-Dade County School District, told the Miami Herald that he no longer supports a proposed plan to make 19 WLRN news staffers employees of the school district. “I recognize that it was harsh. Hindsight is 20-20,” Carvalho said in an article published Saturday. “It’s not language that moving forward I would support.”

The journalists and some other WLRN staffers are now employees of South Florida Public Media, an independent nonprofit. The school board holds WLRN’s license.

The school district’s initial operating agreement presented to the Friends of WLRN in late January was “unacceptable” because it would compromise the journalists’ independence, Dwight Hill, chair of the board of Friends of WLRN, told Current. WLRN listeners and supporters also objected to the proposal in letters to the Herald after the newspaper broke the story about the plan.

According to the Herald, school officials still want “to make sure whatever entity employs WLRN reporters has a legal contract with the school district and stringent screening measures for employees.”

The district told the Herald that the proposed changes aimed to address issues of financial misreporting at Friends of WLRN and the station’s failure to conduct necessary background checks for staff. Miami-Dade County Public Schools is now seeking advice from a panel of journalists “to find a solution that protects WLRN’s independence while resolving the school district’s concerns over the station’s finances,” the Herald reported.

Hill acknowledged that the former Friends of WLRN CFO Jorge Perez-Alvarez deliberately misreported the station’s underwriting income to CPB. After learning of his actions late last year, the friends group made a plan to fire Perez-Alvarez and informed school board administrators, Hill said. The friends group has determined that it could owe CPB up to $1 million but hopes CPB will reduce the amount become some income was underreported, he said.

CPB told Hill that it would subtract the amount owed from future grants, Hill said, and that it will send an auditor to WLRN.

As for the issue of background checks, Hill said he believes that it was a “red herring” because the Friends group had volunteered to comply when it was informed of the problem.

The board of the Friends Group is reviewing the remainder of the school district’s agreement in hopes of finding common ground, Hill said. It will respond to the proposal by the end of the month.