FORT MYERS — Arguing that the district has already investigated three allegations against its superintendent, the Lee County School Board voted Tuesday against launching an independent investigation into Dr. Joseph Burke’s actions.
Instead, the board will send a letter back to the state department of education with attachments of its prior investigative findings. Board chair Mary Fischer received a letter from the inspector general Feb. 25 about three allegations the state had received about Burke. They are:
■ Burke suspended an internal investigation against administrator Deedara Hicks, who was accused of drinking on the job in August of 2011.
■ Burke transferred $1.6 million in grant funds to a separate account without board approval.
■ Burke spent $293,000 in grant money for “top level” administrators instead of for students or classroom purposes.
The letter requires a response within 30 days. A Punta Gorda-based attorney who was brought on Tuesday to advise the board suggested putting off an independent investigation and forging through with the return letter.
“You’re not at the point today, in my opinion ... to initiate the sort of large-scale investigation that may be needed,” Michael McKinley said.
Fischer said after the meeting that the board still could choose to launch an independent investigation, calling it a “possibility.” She said she and other members needed time to read new documents that have been released.
Board members Cathleen Morgan and Jeanne Dozier rallied for an independent investigation into whether Burke followed policy and acted appropriately.
Although Dozier called Burke “one of the nicest people that you will ever shake hands with,” she argued the district would lose credibility if it did not openly invite a neutral, third-party investigation. She also pointed to a 256-page case file against Hicks that included a December 2011 settlement that Hicks did not end up signing.
The settlement would have required Hicks to submit to drug and alcohol testing and a treatment program, with the acknowledgement that there would be no further review into the situation by the district. Dozier called the settlement “a smoking gun.”
“This piece of evidence from the Department of Education is extremely critical,” she said. “It tells the story that there was an attempt to do something. ... It was halted by none other than who is at the top, the superintendent.”
But board members Don Armstrong and Thomas Scott said it would be excessive for the district to do another investigation.
“To me, it is redundant beyond belief,” Scott said to a roar of applause from meeting attendees.
In the interest of the state’s deadline, Fischer agreed to send the letter back to the inspector general, bringing the vote to 3 to 2. Morgan and Dozier dissented.