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Editorial: Lee County school board members not acting likeleaders

Apr. 5, 2013


We believed right-thinking adults once made up the Lee County School District board, but now it appears we have a bunch of children in the seats based on their recent behavior.

The Florida Department of Education must love this group. Every time officials open their mail lately, it seems there is a complaint or an allegation that needs to be investigated, involving a school administrator or one board member going after another member.

The sorry scenarios are reason for concern among the taxpaying public and for those who elected the five board members. As a group, they seem to agree on very little. They seem more interested in attacking each other than actually doing what is right for the school system, which is preparing for some of the biggest changes in its academic history.

We might disagree with how the board has handled the investigation of Superintendent Joseph Burke, but we do agree the Florida Department of Education must look into the allegations levied against Burke and his roles in managing funds and in stopping the investigation of South Zone Operations Director Deedara Hicks. The allegations must be cleared up.

The confusing thing appears to be how the state learned about the school boardís plans for an investigation. The board voted Tuesday for the investigation by the state. And learned Thursday the state would look into the charges. Board chairwoman Mary Fischer said she was surprised to hear about the investigation so soon, because they had not yet sent a letter to the state requesting the probe. But the state said it received a letter from board attorney Mike McKinley on Wednesday asking for the investigation.

But this board appears more interested in slamming each other than getting to the bottom of what happened with Burke.

There is no question this investigation has created tension among board members and also a steady stream of allegations. Now, board member Tom Scott has requested Inspector General Mike Blackburn investigate fellow member Jeanne Dozier for fraud and bullying. He said Dozier has produced fraudulent emails against him and district chief administrative officer Alberto Rodriguez.

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The speed dial to the FDOE continued with Dozier. She wanted Blackburn to investigate any wrongdoing by board members from the start of their terms. The board voted 3-2 at its March 12 meeting to make the request. We are not really sure what any of this accomplishes other than to prove to most of Southwest Florida that this board appears to be dysfunctional while lacking the ability to work with each other.

This all comes at a time when the district doesnít really know if it is going to have a superintendent come the end of the school year or not. First, Burke announced he was going to resign in June for health reasons. A few days later, he said he may not leave if he gets medical clearance. That puts the board in a very difficult position, especially with an investigation pending.

If Burke does leave, what top education administrator would want the job with a board in such disarray. There seems very little chance of any person getting full support from this board. That will make for a very rocky transition for anyone, especially at a time when this school district and other districts around the state are preparing for a new curriculum, called Common Core Standards, merit pay increases and new teacher evaluations.

The board needs to find common ground. This isnít the first time Lee board members have gone after each other. Dozier and Bob Chilmonik used to be great verbal sparring partners on the board.

But it needs to stop. The school district depends on its top administrator and its policy-setting board to make decisions that will improve the quality of the school system. Any personal or professional feuds detract from that mission.

Voters did not elect this group so they could play out their version of a family feud on a public stage. Their job is to provide leadership. Acting like children and pointing fingers at each other does not set high academic marks.

Maybe one day we can respect this board and their accomplishments. It is very difficult to envision that day any time soon.

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