CREATED Mar. 25, 2013 - UPDATED: Mar. 26, 2013
LEE COUNTY - Under a cloud of controversy...Lee County school Superintendent Joseph Burke is leaving the district. Today Burke announced he's retiring in June and this all comes less than a month after a Fox 4 investigation raised questions about whether Burke improperly suspended an investigation into one of his top directors. Four in your Corner investigator Mike Mason has been on this since the beginning and has the latest.
The Superintendent cites health issues for leaving the district early but many feel it has more to do with the recent controversy surrounding one of his top directors who was accused of being drunk on the job.
Jane Kuckel: "He needs to be fired and the board members that have turned a blind eye need to be held accountable too."
For the past few weeks, some have called for Superintendent Joseph Burke to resign or be fired for his role in a controversial investigation into director Deedara Hicks. Several witnesses say Hicks came to work apparently drunk in August of 2011 but Hicks was never tested. State investigators found no reason to take action in this case but when district officials launched an investigation...Burke ordered them to stop.
Mike Mason: "So you told them to stop."
Joseph Burke: "Yes."
Mike Mason: "And that was the end of it."
Joseph Burke: "That was the end of it."
But board member Jeanne Dozier says that was the beginning of the end for Burke, as some district workers demanded he be held accountable.
Jeanne Dozier: "And I want something done about it, yes."
Becky Demo was the district's executive secretary who told investigators hicks was obviously under the influence. Because of that she says district officials retaliated against her.
Becky Demo: "Keep quiet. You may get a promotion if you side with us."
Mike Mason: "And if you don't?" (Demo motions her head will be cut off)
Demo says the atmosphere at work became hostile - and she chose to retire just 2 and a half years shy of her 30th anniversary with the district. Now Burke is also retiring after only 2 years. In his retirement letter he writes: "due to both family and personal health issues, I am planning to retire in June, 2013."
Mary Fischer: "I'm glad he'll have an opportunity to be with his family and to get his health back."
Board chair Mary Fischer supports Burke's decision but feels it will be a great loss to the district.
Mary Fischer: "I felt a little disappointed because I think that Dr. Burke has, potentially has, the knowledge and the insight to lead us forward."
Burke's current contract wasn't set to expire until June of 2014. When previous Superintendent James Browder left early he received a sizeable payout but Fischer says Burke won't be paid a penny after he leaves.
Mike Mason: "On his last day that will be the end of paying him so he won't get a golden parachute."
Mary Fischer: "Right, no golden parachutes anymore."
Burke plans to retire in June but won't say which day. The board will discuss that during their next board meeting.