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Losing Battle

Losing Battle

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Published by Stefan Kamph
The tumultuous term of Hank Battle at a tony private school.
The tumultuous term of Hank Battle at a tony private school.

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Published by: Stefan Kamph on Feb 10, 2012
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09/21/2013

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JULY 21-27, 2011
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VOLUME 14
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NUMBER 38 BROWARDPALMBEACH.COM
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FREE
 
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O
n the day Hank Battle came to town in January,possibility was in the air at Pine Crest School.Construction crews jackhammered away at anew upper-school wing on the Fort Lauderdalecampus; lower-schoolers at a second campus in BocaRaton walked in green-and-white uniforms through a building less than 2 years old.The 49-acre campus in north Fort Lauderdale is anadmissions-brochure dream: ten tennis courts and anOlympic-sized pool, a New-England bell tower at the en-trance, Jeffersonian quadrangles and cloistered walkways.Extracurricular programs include a literary magazine, ballet, and rowing crews for both sexes. The school boastschampion swim and lacrosse teams, and average SAT scoresin last year’s graduating class were 1949 out of 2400, farhigher than those of local public schools. The Fort Lauder-dale campus hosts 1,600 kids in prekindergarten throughhigh school; a satellite campus in Boca Raton serves 875students who attend grade eight and below.Battle arrived on campus to be the school’s fifth presi-dent. He would be the first outsider to assume this posi-tion. Rather than rising through the ranks by years of service to the school, he had just spent 12 years as head-master of a private school in North Carolina.On the Friday before Martin Luther King Day, Battleappeared at a faculty meeting. Walter Banks, then-chair-man of the board of trustees (and owner of the Lago Mar beach resort), stood to introduce him. Battle, fit and 54,with gray hair and a handsome face but a bit of SteveBuscemi from the side, began to speak.His microphone didn’t work. He fiddled with theequipment clipped to his shirt, then addressed the teach-ers without amplification.According to several people who attended that meet-ing, he said good things about the school and the boardof trustees. He said good things about himself and hisdecades of academic leadership. He said he wanted tomake Pine Crest the best independent school in the na-tion. To hear Battle tell it, he was the finest fundraiserin all the land.One teacher, who asked to remain unnamed, recalledthat he identified some “challenges” in running the school:“too many layers at the top, too much inefficiency.”Battle took a moment to answer questions. He ad-dressed a rumor, admitting that he had almost turneddown the job because the move would be hard on hiswife and three children.The teacher recalled a foreboding moment when “aclose colleague of mine, a phenomenal teacher, raisedhis hand and said, ‘What can you tell us about contracts?We have families to take care of.’ Battle would not answerthe question.”Still, the faculty and staff were generally optimistic. Vince Arduini, then an assistant dean and offensive co-ordinator for the football team, said, “[Battle] indicatedto us that he would be starting on February 1. It was await-and-see kind of thing. You’re always respectful of people in those positions as they come in.”What Battle didn’t let on in that meeting was that hismarriage was failing and that when he did move, he’d be in the market for an oceanfront bachelor pad at theschool’s expense. He didn’t mention that the man who had brought him to town and sold him to the board of trusteeswas an old colleague. And despite the euphemistic talkof “inefficiency,” nobody predicted the all-out shitstormof rumor, job losses, and litigation that Henry MarriottBattle Jr. would bring to town.
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his summer, 19-year-old Brandon Knight walkedonto a bright stage in Newark and shook handswith the NBA commissioner, accepting a job aspoint guard for the Detroit Pistons. In a Pistonscap and a shy smile, he looked awfully humble for theNBA’s eighth overall draft pick. He’d just blasted his way through one year at Kentucky, scoring more points thanany other freshman in the country.
 BYSTEFANKAMPH  
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Knight had worked hard in high schooltoo — at Pine Crest. As a 2010 graduate,Knight was the product of an athletic pro-gram that was “as good as it’s ever beenin the history of the school,” according toJim Foster, the school’s athletic director.Knight may be the most recent alum-nus bound for greatness, but he’s not theonly one. Wayne Huizenga, the WasteManagement magnate and chief Fort Lau-derdale benefactor, went to Pine Crest. Sodid
 Frasier
’s Kelsey Grammer and avant-garde jazz musician John Medeski.The parent roster is a virtual register of Florida muckety-mucks, including DavidStern, the foreclosure lawyer whose “robo-signing” practices helped kick thousandsof people out of their homes; Ed Pozzuoli,president of the Tripp Scott law firm; andBoston Red Sox owner John Henry.Tuition for the high school is $22,650,and pre-k costs $18,525, according to theschool’s website. On top of that, the list of donors is generous and broad-ranging.A woman named Mae McMillan foundedPine Crest in 1934 as a winter tutoring pro-gram for vacationing kids, then continuedto teach on a makeshift downtown campus.When the school moved to its current site in1965, McMillan’s son Bill took over as head-master. Mae died in 1985, and in 1988, Bill(who still teaches) passed the head’s chair toDr. Lourdes Cowgill, a longtime faculty mem- ber. This first handover to a non-McMillanpassed with little controversy and broadsupport, according to parents and alumni.The next transition wouldn’t be so smooth.According to several people connectedto the school, Cowgill began to face troublein 2010. Some of the most powerful among the 24 members of the board of trusteesincluding Pozzuoli and Marc Bell, themultimillionaire owner of 
 Penthouse
and AdultFriendFinder.com — sent their chil-dren to school at Pine Crest’s Boca campus.Cowgill, on the other hand, was a prod-uct of the Fort Lauderdale campus. Shehad joined the school before it acquiredBoca Raton Academy in 1987. As the sat-ellite campus grew, there was pressurefrom Boca parents for more represen-tation in the administrative ranks.“Some Boca parents that were on the board [wanted to] get rid of [Cowgill] so theycould put somebody in as basically theirpuppet,” says one former administrativeemployee, echoing a theory voiced by severalparents who spoke to
 New Times
. “Someof the trustees and parents that had a lot of money in Boca wanted academic require-ments to be reduced, because they werescared that their kids wouldn’t be able to getinto the [Fort Lauderdale] high school.”Whatever the reasons they discussed be-hind closed doors, the board ushered Cowgillout of the president’s office at the end of the2009-10 school year. The board said in a pre-pared statement that this was “the product of an established succession plan with which...Cowgill had assisted several years ago.”Cowgill is still working with theschool as a guidance counselor and didnot reply to requests for comment. Butmultiple sources say she left the posi-tion much more quickly than expected.To replace her, the board neededsomeone who was both a distinguishededucator and a capable figurehead for theschool — as well as a savvy fundraiser.The new president would need to dealwith some tricky finances. For all its prestige,Pine Crest faced a growing fiscal crisis at thestart of 2011. Despite the five-digit tuition, theschool was more than $80 million in debt.The former employee estimates that morethan $40 million of that was related to newconstruction on both campuses. He says thatPozzuoli was chair of the finance committeeand that “the entire board [was] responsiblefor taking on debt” when it decided to moveforward with the construction projects. Butdespite the shiny new facilities this invest-ment produced, he says, “they didn’t addany more classrooms, so [the construction]is not going to bring in any more revenue.”The board hired one of the best-knownrecruiting firms in the country, Heidrick andStruggles, to find a new president. The manat the helm of the search, according to peopleclose to the process, was a principal with thefirm named George Conway, a white-hairedformer chaplain, teacher, and headmaster.Of the three final presidential candidatesConway brought to campus, he pushed one inparticular, says the administrative employee.Hank Battle was headmaster at ForsythCountry Day School in North Carolina,where in 12 years he had grown the full-timestudent body from around 600 to 900 andincreased revenue through additional à lacarte schooling programs. His most visibleachievement at Forsyth was adding the John-son Academic Center, which offers tutoring.This was one mechanism behind For-syth’s increase in student population: Theadmissions department relaxed its stan-dards somewhat for applicants with familymembers already at the school. The schoolstood to benefit from the new students’tuition dollars, and if the students wereacademically lagging, they could receivetutoring at the center. No longer a stringentrequirement for admissions, academicadvantage could be offered for a fee.“It was certainly a great recruiting tool”for families at the school, says David Mar-tin, chair of Forsyth’s board of trustees. “Icould say, ‘Look, I can take care of all yourchildren regardless of their academic abili-ties. Don’t worry about academics.’ ”Battle also oversaw a reputed tenfoldgrowth in Forsyth’s endowment — moneythat’s invested to produce revenue throughinterest payments every year — throughfundraising and other measures.Battle’s accomplishments must haveimpressed the Pine Crest board. AlthoughPine Crest is a nonprofit organization likemost prep schools, at least two board mem- bers have interest in for-profit education. Andy Rosen is CEO of Kaplan Inc., a $2.6 billion test-prep and tutoring outfit. AndJonathan Hage, another board member,owns a company that manages a string of charter schools across Florida under theCharter Schools USA banner as well asnumerous limited-liability corporationswith names like “Fishin’ 4 Schools.” Hage’scorporations list fellow board memberPozzuoli as their registered legal agent.Moreover, says the administrativeworker, “The Boca trustees thoughtHank was a guy from whom theycould get anything they wanted.”Conway, Battle, and the board sealed thedeal. Battle resigned from his position at For-syth, sending the school into an acceleratedsearch for a new headmaster. He left behindhis wife and children on a quiet, tree-linedstreet across from a country club and movedto Florida, where lavish rewards awaited him.
B
ack in 2007, Battle made news ina
Wall Street Journal
article called“Prep-School Payday” for be-ing paid “more than $300,000in salary and bonuses” at Forsyth.His new, exorbitant contract at Pine Crestwent far beyond that. It netted him just un-der a million bucks a year and guaranteedfive years of pay, according to the formeremployee. And that was just the base salary. A clause of the contract allowedBattle yearly bonuses tied to the amountof money he brought in throughfundraising, the person says.This practice would violate the ethical rec-ommendations of the Council for Advance-ment and Support of Education (CASE), a body that provides guidelines for
From the 2011 Pine Crest yearbook: Hank Battle poses with students; his associate David Bowman came with him to serve as PineCrest’s vice president of operations.
Losing Battle
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Pine Crest School/Yearbook 2011

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