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Outside counsel to investigate complaint

By Staff | Dec 11, 2014

The School District of Lee County unanimously agreed to spend up to $10,000 to have an outside attorney investigate a complaint against Superintendent Nancy Graham.

The complaint alleges she “embellished” claims to have saved the district nearly $1 million, as well as expended Title I funds without approval.

The School District of Lee County received a letter from the Florida Department of Education Inspector General Office Dec. 8, regarding allegations made for Graham’s June 27, 2013 reorganization plan. The letter stated that the plan mislead the board by “embellishing the savings outlined in the plan,” as well as that Graham “obligated and expended Title I funds without prior approval.”

Within 30 days of receiving the letter, the school district must send findings and actions of its investigation to the Inspector General Office.

The complaint, which was made by Alberto Rodriguez, a former district employee, addresses Graham’s reorganization plan saving the district $994,555.36.

The letter sent to Inspector General Mike Blackburn from Rodriguez dated Dec. 4 stated “there are a number of striking discrepancies/anomalies that fail to pass fiscal scrutiny and inflates the savings estimates.”

Board Member Steve Teuber said this is the district’s sixth complaint that has come from Rodriguez. He said Rodriguez has asked for more than 230 public record requests.

Teuber, who declined specific comment on the complaint while it is under investigation, said the board had the option of having an internal investigation done to provide information. This is what happened two years ago when Joseph Burke was the superintendent.

In an effort to be efficient and expedient in finding the data, Teuber said it is best to have outside council collect the information. In addition, the use of outside council provides for better public perception than using people directed by the superintendent to pull information regarding the allegations.

“The appearance to the community isn’t transparent,” he said of using staff.

The board’s unanimous vote directed Keith Martin, the board attorney, to hire Thomas Gonzalez, out of Tampa, at a rate of $175 an hour. Teuber said Gonzalez told the board he could do the investigation for $10,000 or less. He said an internal investigation would cost a comparable amount.

The areas Rodriguez outlined included cutting three zone managers from maintenance to save the district $244,419. Rodriguez stated that those three positions were reassigned to service managers of the east, west and south zones.

He also stated in his letter that rather than the district saving money on cutting three zone coordinator positions, it only saved money on one position after it closed due to one employee retiring. Rodriguez further stated that the savings was “over-inflated” by more than $200,000.

The letter also touched upon savings regarding seven zone teachers on assignment.

“The savings amount cited here of $631,099 would mean that even using the most optimistic figures by adding fringe benefits to the totals, would amount to $90,155.43 per teacher,” Rodriguez wrote in the letter. “Not even the highest paying districts in Florida do teacher salaries with fringes are in the $90,000 range, let along Lee County.”

He also stated in the letter that 50 percent of the new position, director of Turn Around Schools, was charged to Federal Title I funds.

Teuber said the unfortunate thing about the Office of Inspector General’s request, is he had to bring forward the issue at a special meeting focused on legislative matters because the next scheduled board meeting was not until January.

“We are still in the mode of spending a lot of time not focusing on students,” he said. “This is another distraction not focusing on students. This board is focused on kids. We dealt with it and moved on and now hope people spend more time on legislation and academic improvement.”