Lee Schools improperly spending grant money?

Matt Grant

Photo: Video by fox4now.com

Lee Schools improperly spending grant money?

CREATED Aug. 7, 2012

FORT MYERS - Did the Lee County School District's use of grant money violate federal law?

Since 2008, the school district has been spending money meant to help kids learn English on office supplies, according to a newly released audit.

The district gets almost $1 million a year in Title III grant money. The money is meant to make sure non-English speakers "attain English language proficiency."

But some of that money never went to those students, according to a 118-page report requested by Superintendent Dr. Joseph Burke.

"Are they getting cheated out of an education?," asked Fox 4 reporter Matt Grant.

"Quite frankly," said board member Don Armstrong, "yes."

The district spent $34,640 meant for the classroom on cabinets, computers and a copier worth $5000.

"Oh don't get me started on office supplies," said Armstrong. "You're not supposed to be spending money on office supplies."

The report details what appears to be a misuse of funds going back to 2008, under then superintendent Dr. Jim Browder.

"Somebody wasn't doing their job," said Armstrong. "That's all I can tell you."

The district spent $517,057 in grant money on seven teachers. But according to the report, they were spending almost half their time doing paperwork instead of in the classroom.

On instructor spent 65 percent of the time writing reports, ordering materials and applying for grants while only 10 percent was spent tutoring students once a week, according to the report.

"It was absolutely outrageous," said former board member Bob Chilmonik, who is running again. "The grant is very specific to be with students not shuffling paperwork on the inside."

Chilmonik said he heard rumors this was going on when he was on the board but says he never got the chance to investigate.

"I tried to get to the bottom of it," said Chilmonik. "But was shut down by my colleagues."

The report also found the district spent $328,000 on a 20-day summer camp for 78 students at a cost of more than $4000 per student.

"It appears that money was simply allocated 'cause they got in a hurry and said 'Well we have to spend it some way,'" said Chilmonik.

"How was this allowed to happen?," asked Grant.

"No oversight," said Chilmonik.

With the way the district spent the money, Chilmonik says they not only short-changed students but violated federal law.

"This would result, in my opinion," said Chilmonik, "in millions of dollars worth of fines against the school district."

School District Response

In a statement the Lee County School District tells Fox 4:

"Staff has not had the opportunity to review the report in order to analyze its findings and recommendations. Once staff has reviewed the report the superintendent will bring a comprehensive plan to the school board that addresses the findings and recommendations."

Matt Grant
mgrant@fox4now.com

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