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Lee County school superintendent decides to leave his post

Meanwhile, board already fighting over next step.

May 8, 2013
School superintendent Burke announces retirement
School superintendent Burke announces retirement: Lee County School Superintendent Joseph Burke announces retirement. (Video courtesy of WINK News)
Joseph Burke


With nearly two years under his belt, Lee schools Superintendent Joseph Burke announced Tuesday that he was retiring effective June 19.

“I have been contemplating for awhile my potential retirement,” Burke said. “My health, and more so my wife’s health, has been an ongoing issue.”

The Lee School Board of Education will discuss the superintendent’s search process at 10 a.m. May 21.

Burke announced his plans to retire in a March 25 memo to school board members. However he never set a date. In April, Burke said he was reconsidering the decision depending on his health and that of his wife, Judy. He wouldn’t elaborate on the health concerns, but said stress was a factor and there was a need for a lifestyle change that would make it difficult for him to answer the demands of a superintendent position.

“I am deeply honored to have served Lee County,” Burke said. “It has been an exciting opportunity for me and one in which we were able to accomplish a lot.”

Burke said he plans to be involved with the district, especially as administrators finish the district’s strategic plan, develop the teacher-leader ladder plan and wrap up negotiations with the Lee teacher’s union.

“A lot of things that need to be done over the next month or so,” Burke said. “So I’m looking forward to finishing out the work I need to do.”

Burke made it clear that a pending investigation from the state’s Department of Education inspector general’s office didn’t play a part in his decision. Those investigators have been looking into allegations that Burke mismanaged funds and closed an active local employee investigation. That local investigation centered on now-South Zone Operations Director Deedara Hicks. In February, DOE ruled that no further action by that office was warranted in the Hicks case.

“It didn’t play a role in my decision, and I don’t think (the investigation is) a black cloud (over the district),” he said. “I think the issues will be resolved.”

Board member Don Armstrong said he asked Burke prior to the board meeting Tuesday to reconsider his decision.

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“In any school district the average superintendent stays maybe two to three years, especially in a very large district,” he said. “This is a very stressful job, but there’s been a lot of backstabbing going on here. People throwing accusations around.”

Now, the school board will have to decide how it wants to replace Burke when he leaves in June.

“We have a few choices; one would be to appoint somebody immediately to the post. Another would be to appoint an interim and launch a search,” said board Chairwoman Mary Fischer. “We have to as soon as Dr. Burke leaves on the 19th have someone in place.”

Following Burke, the No. 2 person within the district is Chief Administrative Officer Alberto Rodriguez, who was brought into the district by Burke, Fischer said.

Rodriguez said he wouldn’t comment on any superintendent search decisions the board makes, but added “I think it’s a sad day for the district. Dr. Burke has provided great leadership and served with class and dignity.”

Board member Tom Scott put forth a motion during the meeting for Rodriguez to replace Burke.

“It’s critically important to maintain consistency during a difficult transitional period,“ said Scott. “... what is laid upon the school district next year is a tremendous job, and it’s important to have someone who has been here and worked shoulder to shoulder with Dr. Burke to take the reins for one year.”

The suggestion caused controversy on the board and led to one member walking out on another member’s comments.

“I don’t feel Dr. Rodriguez is a qualified candidate,” said board member Cathleen Morgan. “He was superintendent for eight months in a district and chose to leave after a survey was done on his performance by staff.”

Morgan said she couldn’t point to any success within the district that could be attributed to Rodriguez.

“Ms. Morgan, your comments are unprofessional in every which way… I would never think about talking down anybody like that in our district,” said board member Don Armstrong. “We don’t need to sit up here and badger people in the district or fight.”

Morgan then walked from the dais and Fischer called a five-minute recess. When the meeting resumed, the board voted down the motion 2-3 with Fischer, Dozier and Morgan opposing Rodriguez’s appointment.

Board member Jeanne Dozier said she would prefer the board held a workshop to work toward a unanimous decision on an interim superintendent.

While there is some relief from teachers that Burke has made a decision, a change of leadership is going to cause instability and uncertainty for teachers, said Mark Castellano, president of the Teachers Association of Lee County, adding that the union is bargaining with the district.

“Very simply there has to be a decision maker, and there has to be one who can instruct the district bargaining team on how to move forward,” Castellano said. “Last year we had a lot of indecision, and that created some tension and delayed the process.”

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