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School board backlash over Fox 4 investigations

School board backlash over Fox 4 investigations

By Matt Grant. CREATED Nov 8, 2011

FORT MYERS - After a series of Fox 4 investigations into the Lee County School District, one board member wants to see changes while another called the reports "superficial."

Last week, Fox 4 investigated money spent on conferences from Key West to San Francisco; the accidental release of thousands of teachers' social security numbers - which the district called "no breach at all" - and millions spent on vacant land.

At Tuesday's board meeting, board chair Tom Scott reacted to our stories about the district's land purchases.

"I think there needs to be a little more care taken in some of those superficial reports," said Scott.

Scott wouldn't return our phone call requesting comment Monday. But he took issue with our report which found from 2003-2008 the district spent $65 million buying land that may not be used for 20 years.

Scott says there are more immediate plans.

"We have several parcels 30,40,50 acres that we are going to recommend be leased for agricultural purposes," said Scott.

Fox 4 reported that the idea of leasing the land out for agricultural purposes or cell phone towers had been a consideration.

The biggest issue that came up was our investigation into the board's travel.

"There was some misinformation that was given on that report and I'm not going to go into," said Jeanne Dozier, who spent more than $10,000 over two years going to conferences.

Dozier defended her trips and says one thing we highlighted - what appeared as "telephone charges" on the invoice - were actually bills for faxes she received.

"I have no qualms at all about any money that was spent on any conference," said fellow board member Jane Kuckel, who defended Dozier's trips. "We get paid back tenfold for everything she does or more."

And Don Armstrong, who told us the board was spending too much on travel, now says some of it is necessary.

"Some of the board travel is a necessity," said Armstrong.

But Armstrong cautioned the trips need to be more "open." He says the board should take a public vote on all out-of-state trips and cap it at a certain amount.

"This way we'd all take ownership on anything that happens," said Armstrong. "I think that would be the fair thing to do."

Kuckel agreed.

"If folks are going out-of-state," she said, "we should have some awareness of that."

"I agree with that certainly," said Dozier.

"So we just don't, on our own, decide we're going to a conference in another state," said Kuckel, who cited a previous outgoing board member who took what she called a questionable last minute trip to New York City on the taxpayer's dime.

"I do think we need to put something in place," said Kuckel, "to prevent that kind of thing from happening."

But not everyone agreed. Tom Scott said the board's travel budget is $20,000 for the year which he says is "not excessive." He disagreed with Armstrong, saying there is no need for a policy change.

"The dollars are there to be spent," said Scott.

Neither the board nor the new superintendent brought up the district's accidental release of thousands of social security numbers. 

You can watch our investigations by clicking the links to the left.

Matt Grant, Reporter
mgrant@fox4now.com