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Lee School Board tells state to investigate Burke themselves

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Lee School Board tells state to investigate Burke themselves

By Matt Grant. CREATED Apr 2, 2013

FORT MYERS, Fla. - The Lee County School Board rejected a formal request from the Office of Inspector General to investigate Superintendent Dr. Joseph Burke telling them if they want an investigation they'll have to do it themselves.

In a letter dated March 27 the Department of Education and the Inspector General requested the board conduct an independent investigation into whether Burke misappropriated money and improperly suspended an investigation into a top administrator, Deedara Hicks, who was accused of being drunk on the job in 2011.

The board Tuesday in a 3-2 vote put the investigation in the state's hands.

During a special workshop to address the state's letter, Burke sat quietly not saying a word.

"Basically what the Inspector General is telling us to do," said board member Jeanne Dozier, "is to do our job."

That job was to conduct an "independent investigation" within 45 days. The district's own attorney recommended the board hire an outside law firm for around $5,000-$10,000.

"I think that it is our duty as responsible board members," said Dozier.

But not everyone on the board saw it that way.

"If the state wants to do an investigation let them come in and spend their money," said board member Don Armstrong. "Not the taxpayer's money."

Armstrong questioned whether an outside law firm would be "tainted" by local media reports regarding Burke's decision to stop the Hicks investigation.

Tom Scott agreed that there should be an investigation. He felt the state should be the ones to handle things.

"Without the truth you got nothing," said Scott. "I want the truth. And the truth is best determined by an independent investigation and that should be out of the Inspector General's office."

Which is what the board decided in a 3-2 vote.

Cathleen Morgan and Dozier were the only two to vote against hiring an outside law firm - which is what the district's own attorney recommended.

"If I was the IG and you thumbed your nose at me and said you're not doing an investigation," said Dozier, recalling what a constituent told her, "I'd go to the governor and remove all of you."

Dozier said the board was "abdicating" their responsibility and said if they turn their oversight over to the state, what's the point of having a school board at all?

Board chair Mary Fischer says there is "no statutory authority" for the state to order the district to investigate.

"We've already spent a lot of time," said Fischer, "and energy on these issues."

The Florida Department of Education announced they "will not comment" on the board's decision not to investigate Burke until they receive the letter.

The board is requesting the state to respond to them within 45 days.

Matt Grant
mgrant@fox4now.com

Follow me on Twitter @MattGrantFox4