District staff questioning if double standard exists
Employees of the Lee County School District have come forward claiming that there is a double standard in how the school board responds to staff who have broken board policy.
They allege that one employee was swiftly suspended without pay for breaking a policy, while a director has yet to receive a hearing for the same infraction.
Ernest Overhoff, an employee with the school district’s maintenance department, was suspended without pay after the district found probable cause to believe that he was conducting personal business with district-owned equipment during the workday.
The school board is now considering the possible termination of Overhoff, who retained attorney Robert J. Coleman as legal counsel.
Last month, photographs surfaced from June showing what appears to be a Lee County School District employee working on a personal vehicle — a black sedan with a tan-colored roof — at a transportation depot.
The Lee County Tax Collector said information on license plate numbers is confidential and could not verify the owner of the car, but stewards of the photographs claim that the vehicle belongs to Transportation West Director Charles Dailey.
Reportedly the photographs were turned over to the Professional Standards and Equity Department in August.
Joe Donzelli, director of communications for the district, acknowledged Jan. 21 that the standards department is investigating allegations against Dailey.
“I have been informed that the investigation you referenced is still ongoing, therefore the information is exempt from Florida statutes and cannot be made public at this time,” he said.
On Monday, a spokesperson for Dailey said that he did not wish to comment further than saying, “It was something back in October that he said was resolved,” and that Dailey drives a district-issued vehicle.
According to Donzelli, any employee issued a “white fleet” vehicle is provided with a sedan such as a Ford Taurus or a sports utility vehicle such as a Ford Explorer. He said Dailey has been issued a Ford Explorer.
Bob Rushlow, president of the Support Personnel Association of Lee County, sat in with Overhoff during his predetermination hearing. He said that under some circumstances employees can conduct personal business with the permission of a superintendent or manager.
“A situation could come where they have to deal with something, and they can get permission from their supervisor. Did he (Overhoff) abuse it? I don’t know,” said Rushlow.
Many employees do not know the policies, and there is not a specific program to notify employees of changes to any rules, he said.
School board policy states that no “employee of the district may conduct personal business on school time except for emergencies approved by the principal or superintendent,” and that “no district equipment or supplies shall be used to conduct personal business or any other activity not connected with the school district.”
Utilizing global positioning systems — installed in every district vehicle including school buses — officials reportedly tracked Overhoff between June and July. They claim that on numerous occasions he made random stops at Hess, Dunkin’ Donuts, Bank of America and One Price Optical without permission.
Coleman said that based on past practices Overhoff’s actions are not improper and most of the debated trips would have fallen into his 30-minute break.
“Essentially his position is that for some of his stops, he was expressly authorized to make,” he said.
Overhoff’s predetermination conference to discuss his charges was scheduled for Sept. 25. He was suspended Dec. 18, four months after the hearing.
Now some employees are questioning whether expedient punishments are only reserved for some and if a double standard exists.
“There is a strong possibility there could be a double standard. They treat management differently,” said Rushlow. “Management is supposed to be mentors and enforce policies, and we have instances where management violates their own policy.”
Coleman said that after choosing to represent Overhoff he was notified of a growing frustration among school district employees over a perceived double standard.
“There is an element of frustration that a lower level employee is moved forward on a rapid pace, while with upper level management employees there doesn’t seem to be any conclusion,” he said. “I can’t say Mr. Overhoff feels that, but I haven’t specifically gone into detail with Ernest.”