LEE COUNTY, Fla.- The Lee County School Board is refusing a request from the state to investigate outgoing Superintendent Dr. Joseph Burke. Instead, board members want the state to handle it.
The State Inspector General asked the board to look into whether Dr. Burke misused funds, and whether he inappropriately suspended an employee investigation, but the board says it won't do it. This is the second time the state Inspector General's office asked the school board about these allegations.
Last month, the board responded that the issues were already put to rest. But the state said not so fast, and was not satisfied with the results of two of the three allegations. The state said the district's response concerning the Deedara Hicks investigation simply said there would be no action against her, it did not address whether Burke acted appropriately in suspending the active investigation.
Tuesday, the board voted 3-2 to refuse to do the outside investigation, and instead ask the state to do it themselves.
Board Chair Mary Fischer voted in favor of asking the state to handle the investigation. She says, "I think the advantage is it will be more efficient, effective, it will not cost us anything, we won't be spending tax payer dollars on that." Board members Tom Scott and Don Armstrong also voted to have the state conduct the investigation. They believed it would be more objective that way. All board members agreed an investigation is necessary and they want to put these issues behind them.
But board members Jeanne Dozier and Cathleen Morgan wanted to take the state and their attorney's advice to launch an independent investigation. Dozier says, "to give someone else that oversight, what we are doing is abdicating the responsibility that the citizens have intrusted in us, and all they can do is go to the polls. If the superintendent had done his due diligence, in the get go of this, we wouldn't even be here today!"
Dozier believes there could be repercussions for board members because they are not doing as the state asked. Fischer says the state does not have the legal right to demand the school board do the investigation.
The board is asking that the state respond within 45 days, but there's not word on whether that time frame will hold up.
Dr. Burke was present at the meeting, but he did not make any comments or react to the board's discussion. There were also several people in the audience who spoke out supporting Dr. Burke. He announced last week that he will retire in June.