The ruling last week from the State Inspector General's office substantiating the allegations against former Lee County Schools Superintendent Dr. Burke was a needless and shameful embarrassment to the school district and community. Not only did the IG's office substantiate the formal allegations of inappropriate interference with a personnel investigation and the unauthorized transfer of $1.6 million, but the summary report went on to site numerous other areas of mismanagement-- disregard for and violation of Public Information laws, preferential employee awarding of sick leave pay, violation of State Statutes and School Board Policies in the release of public information, promotion and demotion of employees based on cronyism rather than job performance, and developing a working climate often perceived as one of "fear and intimidation."
During that same period of time, the district dropped from an "A" rated School District to a "C" and overspent their allocated budget by $20+ million dollars per year.
These allegations were first brought to the Board's attention over 2 years ago. However, the three School Board Members who comprised the Board majority during that time, Fisher, Armstrong, and Scott, refused repeatedly to investigate those substantiated claims. Initially, Mary Fisher, Board Chair, unilaterally denied the School Board attorney the opportunity to make his recommendation for an investigation. The same three Board Members, Fisher, Armstrong and Scott continued to turn down a request for a local investigation three additional times, once from me, once from an outside Board Attorney hired to give them advice, and lastly from the State Inspector General, thus triggering the State-wide investigation.
While Dr. Burke is gone and a new superintendent is in place, those who allowed and sometimes encouraged this kind of mismanagement to take place--"let him be creative"-are still there.
There is no doubt in my mind that Dr. Graham can bring stability and positive leadership to the District. She is a very intelligent lady who keeps abreast of current trends in education and has proven leadership experience.
However, Dr. Graham can't do it alone. To be successful, she will need:
- Board Members who are diverse in the skills and talents that each brings to the table, but, also, committed to work as a TEAM.
- Board Members who understand and can speak from successful high level leadership and management experiences. The Lee County School District is a $1.3 Billion dollar corporation.
- Board Members who accept their governance role as an oversight body to uphold the laws of the State and Policies of the District and who are prepared to hold themselves and District employees accountable to be educationally sound, fiscally responsible, and to practice data driven decision making.
So----Here is where you come-in -- The Call to Action
The terms of the three School Board Members, who have made up the majority vote during the decline over the last two years, will expire next year.
Without a Board which has both the expertise to provide oversight and the ability to work as a team, Dr. Graham will be stymied. More of the same is unacceptable
If an Educational Program in Lee County which truly has the talent and capacity to be a World Class School System is important to you, then the process for recruiting and supporting high quality candidates to run for these School Board seats must start immediately and you can to be a part of that process.
If you know of someone who meets the above qualifications, begin the conversation. But, most of all be an informed voter. Start now to research the background and experience of each person who announces their interest in or candidacy for the Lee County School Board. The quality of our schools determines the quality of our community.
Jane E. Kuckel, PhD, is a former Lee County School Board member.