Updated: Monroe chief tapped to take reins of Lee County School District
Dr. Joseph Burke, the superintendent of the Monroe County School District, was chosen to lead the Lee County School District in a 4-1 vote Tuesday morning following a six-month search for a new superintendent.
Board Member Jeanne Dozier voted against.
“He is the right person for this job today,” Board Chairman Thomas Scott said. “He is the only person today who is ready. It is a matter of whose basket is the most full today.”
Burke said he is delighted and thrilled about being offered the job as Lee’s next superintendent.
“I am really pleased to have the opportunity,” he said. “I am glad the board had enough confidence to choose me.”
The first thing Burke wants to tackle after he becomes the sitting superintendent is working on building relationships with the board, administrators and staff.
“We have to function as a team,” he said, adding there needs to be that feeling that everyone is working on the challenges together.
When he was in Lee County last week, he said he had the opportunity to meet quite a few principals.
“I am very pleased with their enthusiasm and energy and am looking forward to working with them,” Burke said.
Other priorities include working on the budget, and Burke said the staff has prepared a pretty solid set of recommendations to balance the budget for the board.
Burke said from there he will work on the prominent issues of the transportation audit, school choice and improving the quality of instruction connected to the new accountability parameters with which the school district is dealing.
Although Dozier brought forward critical information that she said she collected through personal interviews with board members from Monroe County, the other board members could not verify that information.
Dozier told the board that she had tremendous concern about Burke becoming the superintendent. She said after talking with the board members in Monroe, she was told that Burke had not been compliant with state statutes and local ordinances.
Burke said he believes Dozier is talking about media attention regarding a construction project, which he said has followed applicable state statutes. The local ordinances to which she referred, Burke said, are not applicable to the school district.
“There are land development regulations that school districts doesn’t have to necessarily follow in most school districts because there are a variety of needs that the school district has,” he said.
Burke said he did not know of any other issues.
Dozier also said that since Burke was appointed by the governor, she wanted to ask the board members if they would hire him, to which she received a reply that they did not intend to retain him.
“Are we settling?” Dozier asked her fellow board members Tuesday. “Did we start our pay scale too low, we have been down that road before … I don’t want to settle.”
Another concern she expressed was that Burke did not use the word student during the interview process last week.
“I didn’t hear the word student, this is a student-oriented organization,” Dozier said. “We have to have someone that puts students first … this is a tremendous concern for me.”
Board member Jane Kuckel said Burke referred to students as learners during the interviews. She said he talked about the success of every learner and how to maximize the potential of every learner.
Board member Mary Fischer said she did her own research and contacted individuals she knew and did not know in Miami-Dade to ask questions about Burke. She said some of the comments were positive due to his ability to get along with everyone, along with his calm, cool and collective demeanor.
On the other hand, when Fischer contacted people she knew personally, their responses were that he was not approachable, he was not engaged with the community and also that he was not compliant with state statutes.
Board members also shared their input as to why they liked Burke.
Scott said he wanted someone passionate about public education, which Burke has spent his life in and has been successful.
Scott said he voted for Burke because of his record of fixing problems, knowledge of Florida laws, the ability to interface with the community, his understanding of the taxpayers’ burden, appreciation of staff at all levels, the possession of strong people skills and his calm leadership style.
Board member Don Armstrong said although he was not able to attend the interviews on Friday due to a family emergency, he takes his job very seriously and spent the whole weekend researching the top four candidates.
He said he voted for Burke because he wanted someone who did not want to redo the whole system, but rather tweak it where improvement is needed.
“I didn’t want anyone to reinvent the wheel,” he said, which is why Burke’s qualities and experience earned his support.
Kuckel said she thought it was important that Burke talked about teacher leaders during his interview because how you organize education programs stems from that premise.
“As I began to listen further and opened my mind a little more as our candidates began to share what they though they would bring to superintendency, I continued to look at experience and I think Joe Burke is heavily weighed in my mind,” Kuckel said.
Dr. Nancy Graham and Dr. Constance Jones, two other candidates, were also brought up in conversation Tuesday morning when determining who would be the top choice for the next superintendent.
Dozier said individuals who are the closest to the community are individuals that succeed, which was one of the reasons why she favored Jones. She said Jones came forth with something that was concrete of what she was going to do to move the district forward.
Jones’ communication about students and goal for a 100 percent graduation rate were other reasons Dozier voted for her as the next superintendent.
Dozier told her fellow board members that Jones has been involved in academics, funding, state law, labor relations, contract negotiations, the budget of Lee County, compliance, has worked in a large district and is an articulate communicator.
“That person has proven themselves in working with the board,” she said about Jones.
Fischer, who chose Graham as her top vote, said she had a tremendous amount of community support for the superintendent position. She said Graham had a history of being very successful in creating and implementing programs, along with having experience in neighboring counties.
“She gets the big picture,” Fischer said.
Although she had many praises to offer about Graham, she also said she heard that she did not follow contract procedures and she led by fear and intimidation.
Scott voted for Burke as his first choice and Steven Cobb as his second; Fischer voted for Nancy Graham as her first choice and Burke as her second; Armstrong voted for Burke as his first choice and Graham as his second choice; Kuckel voted for Burke as her first choice and Constance Jones as her second choice and Dozier voted Jones as her first choice and Graham as her second.
Board Attorney Keith Martin will prepare the framework for Burke’s contract to present to the board so they have the opportunity to provide their input before it is prepared and negotiated with Burke. Board members discussed various lengths of the contract ranging from one to three years during Tuesday’s workshop.
Previous discussions set a pay range of $165,000 to $195,000 per year.
Martin later said he would provide a document at the end of the day Wednesday for the school board, which will consist of a list of questions and subjects that have been addressed by the board in previous meetings.
He said would like to meet with each board member individually early next week to record their verbal input for Burke’s contract proposal.
Scott said the board members can provide their recommendations as to specific goals and incentives.
Martin will then have discussions with Burke and develop a document for a workshop on June 2. On June 8, the board will consider the contract for approval.