LEE COUNTY, Fla.- Lee County Superintendent Dr. Joseph Burke says the district may launch an investigation into claims of a hostile work environment in one department.
This comes just a day after the school board met to discuss accusations from the state against Dr. Burke for mis-managing funds and suspending an investigation into a top administrator.
Tuesday, the board voted 3-2 to respond to the state with documents showing those allegations have already been put to rest. "I really feel very strongly that the board made the right steps yesterday and this has already been resolved," he said.
But the new allegations of a hostile work environment could prompt a new internal investigation. Burke says, "we had some statements that were provided to my office a week or so ago that seemed like it could be associated with a hostile work environment in one of our departments. We're going to review that data and probably assign that for investigation." He says the situation involves at least one administrator.
As far as other accusations of a hostile work environment, Burke says "I haven't seen that, I haven't heard it. I do believe there was a statement that the high school principals were coerced to be there yesterday, that's not true. I've gotten really no reports to me verbally about a hostile work environment."
At Tuesday's meeting, former employee Becky Demo spoke out and said employees are working in fear. She was a witness in the investigation into Dr. Deedara Hicks, which Burke is accused of suspending. Demo said, "I am concerned about any investigation and the employees of this district cannot, cannot say anything against Dr. Burke or their job is in jeopardy. Who can live without their job? I could, I was lucky. But most people who probably have more information that I have cannot testify against or make a statement against this administration. I have more information but 3 minutes is not enough."
Dr. Burke says, "well, we've done very few demotions so I think when we did they were more associated with restructuring issues and financial issues than people speaking out. That's just simply not true."
School board member Jeanne Dozier says she's heard about this culture of fear from dozens of employees. She says they are afraid for their jobs. "They feel they are in a hostile work environment, they are afraid to answer their phones, to not act like they are busy, they feel their emails are being read. I think the decorum and display we have at the table, I think it has a direct impact on the administrators here, the teachers in the classroom, the principals in the schools. If they see bullying at our level it may roll down into the schools. It's not healthy."