Photo Courtesy of the Sun-Sentinel

The School Board of Broward County pays $43,290 to rent a facility owned by the local affiliate of the controversial “La Raza” organization. In February, the School Board decided to continue its nineteen year partnership with Hispanic Unity of Florida (HUF) by entering into a new lease for the building at 5811 Johnson Street in Hollywood. The School Board pays $3,607 a month for ESOL (English For Speakers Of Other Languages) classes conducted by Hispanic Unity. However, the group conducts more than English classes at the facility. The same building, leased with taxpayer dollars, hosts immigration classes, Obamacare seminars and even press conferences for Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

According to the lease agreement, the School District was fully aware of Hispanic Unity’s programs. The School District’s executive summary of the lease states, “Hispanic Unity’s main focus is economic development and civic engagement. Other services are immigration referrals and services, housing, finance, income tax preparation, employment, and community services, which include 211 (a community hotline), citizenship, and child care.” The School District even paid $19,000 to help renovate the building.

The author of the executive summary made an urgent plea to approve the lease which runs through 2015. The author wrote, “The partnership with Hispanic Unity is imperative due to the fact that the students are comfortable utilizing the services, enrolling in local/neighborhood classes, and are familiar with the program services available in their neighborhood.” The wording is similar to phrases used by the National Council of La Raza, the organization behind Hispanic Unity of Florida.

Hispanic Unity was founded by disgraced former Broward County Commissioner Diana Wasserman Rubin. Hispanic Unity of Florida claims its mission is, “Empowering Hispanics and other members of the community to become self-sufficient, civically engaged and to lead productive lives.” According to itswebsite, Hispanic Unity of Florida (HUF) is an affiliate of the National Council of La Raza, (NCLR), “the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States.” While they claim to be non-partisan, La Raza has supported liberal politicians and causes such amnesty for illegal immigrants and Obamcare.

As RED BROWARD first reported, one of La Raza’s major outreach programs is known as LEAP. Created in 2001, La Raza considers the Latino Empowerment and Advocacy Program (LEAP), to be its “model for increasing Latino civic participation.” The notion of “civic participation” is  found throughout Hispanic Unity of Florida literature. In 2012, an official with La Raza explained the success of LEAP depended on local service providers like Hispanic Unity of Florida. Clarissa Martinez, the Director of Civic Engagement and Immigration at the National Council of La Raza, detailed the theory behind LEAP, “The potential to register and engage new voters through direct-service providers and community organizations normally outside the electoral realm is much greater.”

RED BROWARD obtained a May 2012 copy of a La Raza document which boasts how government entities, like the School Board of Broward County, provide greater access to Hispanic Unity of Florida. “The organizations are asked by educational and public institutions to collaborate on community events, further expanding their contact with the community. Staff of Hispanic Unity of Florida in Hollywood FL registered Latino hospital workers to vote while they were already on site making a health-related presentation and they sponsored voter registration drives at predominantly Latino senior citizen centers that they had previously worked with on other community projects.” The document makes it clear voter registration is the main goal.

La Raza states the importance of a program is determined by the opportunity to register new voters. “NCLR helps its partners develop campaign plans by analyzing each organizaton’s programs and the number of new individuals that each program serves….Since not all programs serve clients who are eligible to register, or the eligible number is very small, the LEAP partners are first asked to create goals based on the programs with a large client base that have the most potential for eligible but unregistered voters. Hispanic Unity of Florida in Hollywood operated 20 different programs but selected the three with the most eligible voters–the front desk or intake, senior center and the HIV/AIDS program–to be part of their voter registration project.”

The building at 5811 Johnson Street, leased with taxpayer dollars, has hosted numerous events which attract eligible voters. Hispanic Unity of Florida regularly hosts HIV/AIDS testing at 5811 Johnson Street. Hispanic Unity of Florida hosted a Healthcare Reform Affordable Care Act Workshop at 5811 Johnson Street. Hispanic Unity of Florida hosted free Citizenship Clinics at 5811 Johnson Street. The September 2013 clinic was even co-sponsored by a Miami-Dade County Commissioner.

Even though it was founded by a Democrat politician, Hispanic Unity of Florida claims to be a non-partisan organization. HUF has deep ties to local Democrats. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Weston), chair of the Democratic National Committee, is a frequent visitor to Hispanic Unity of Florida offices in Hollywood. In January 2014, Wasserman Schultz announced Hispanic Unity of Florida would receive Federal dollars to help sell Obamacare to south Florida. The press release shows the conference was held at 5811 Johnson Street.

Two weeks ago, Hispanic Unity of Florida hosted yet another political press conference for Wasserman Schultz at 5811 Johnson Street. Accompanied by Congressman Joe Garcia, Wasserman Schultz attacked Republicans on immigration reform, a top issue of La Raza. Hispanic Unity CEO Josie Bacallao joinedWasserman Schultz by urging lawmakers to pass the DREAM act.

During this event, Hispanic Unity of Florida’s non-partisan facade became an issue on social media. Sun-Sentinel political reporter Anthony Man asked Josie Bacallao about the partisan nature of the Wasserman Schultz press conference. On the Broward Politics Twitter account he wrote, “Head of @hispanicunity speaking at @DWStweets event says her group is bipartisan. Earlier, she declined to identify any R’s.”

These questions regarding taxpayer funds being spent on La Raza affiliates come just as the School Board of Broward County wants voters to give them $800 million dollars. Last week, the School Board started the process to get an $800 million bond issue on the November ballot. Superintendent Robert Runcie told the Miami Herald, “Everything that we do is linked to the quality of the schools in our community. Housing values, quality of life, the ability to attract businesses and families to our communities all rest on the quality of our schools, and our ability to invest and maintain them and provide our children with a world-class education.”

In a story on the bond issue, Michael Mayo of the Sun-Sentinel raised the issue of under-enrolled schools. He wrote, “There are many schools at 50-to-60 percent capacity…. In many cases, these underenrolled schools are in older eastern and central areas, and in predominantly minority areas. Closing schools could mean saving money (and generating money if the school district sells land), but it would also mean inconvenience and displacing existing students. Apparently, the district finds it easier to ask for more money from taxpayers than making tough business decisions.” The School Board is renting the Hispanic Unity facility in the older, eastern and predominantly minority area of Hollywood.

But the School Board of Broward County is not the only government agency making questionable business deals with Hispanic Unity of Florida. According to documents filed the Broward County Commission, the Children’s Services Council of Broward County(CSC) will give Hispanic Unity of Florida more than $1.27 million taxpayer dollars this year.

The mission of the CSC is “to provide leadership, advocacy and resources necessary to enhance the lives of the children of Broward County and empower them to become responsible, productive adults.” No mention of civic engagement or voter registration. No mention of supporting programs that have the largest number of eligible new voters.

Last May, the Children’s Services Council President Cindy Arenberg Seltzer attended a HUF “strategic panel discussion.” According to the CSC Facebook page, Arenberg Seltzer “participated in an awesome discussion on education with Hispanic Unity’s Strategic Panel. Some topics addressed included major trends that will impact our industry as well as main considerations/threats/opportunities facing our industry. It was part of an ongoing conversation of ways to work together on behalf of Broward’s children.”

Last week, RED BROWARD reported Arenberg Seltzer is urging her friends to “like” the Facebook page of “Citizens For Broward’s Children.” The newly created political committee claims it is interested in Broward County ballot issues regarding “children’s services in Broward County.” Promotion material obtained by RED BROWARD, shows the committee is headed by Fred Lippman, a longtime Democrat member of the Florida legislature. Citizens for Broward’s Children, Inc. says it is a “countywide group of community, business, civic and political organizations and leaders who are working together to support the reauthorization of the Children’s Services Council of Broward County.”

In November 2014, in addition to the School Board $800 million dollar bond issue, Broward voters will be asked to reauthorize the Children’s Services Council of Broward County. If approved, the CSC may control $55 million in taxpayer dollars indefinitely.

Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie is a board member of the Children’s Services Council of Broward County.