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Lee County School Board chooses not to investigate complaints

Posted at 10:15 PM, May 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-09 17:35:13-04

The State Department of Education asked the Lee County School Board to review two allegations related to district finances at Tuesday evening's board meeting.

One complaint raises questions about the cost of Bonita Springs High School. The other complaint questions the use of district maintenance employees and equipment, and whether it's wasting your taxpayer money.

The School Board said both complaints were filed by a disgruntled former employee and it won't be spending taxpayer money to investigate them.

The Board got a letter from the State Department of Education's Office of Inspector General showing a complaint alleging public misrepresentation of the true cost of Bonita Springs High School, which is under construction. The state said the board needed to review the allegations and investigate.

In 2015, the district estimated Bonita Springs High School would cost $50 million, but when the school broke ground, it was already $15 million over budget. 

School Board members claimed the complaint was filed by a disgruntled former employee and the board will not be investigating it.

"Allegations of impropriety or misconduct are completely devoid of credibility and only submitted for the purpose of harassment and disruption," Board Member Chris Patricca said.

The motion read as follows: "The Lee County School Board has made a determination, based on past experience, that allegations of impropriety or misconduct submitted by {complaintant} are completely devoid of credibility and only submitted for the purpose of harassment and disruption, and therefore the School Board will not expend tax payer dollars or any district resources to investigate allegations made by {complaintant}, urging the IG to make the same determination, indicating the school district will cooperate if the IG chooses to investigate this matter."

Four other board members sided with her. Melisa Giovanelli was the only dissenting vote.

"I know you feel he's a disgruntled employee, and I understand that, but I want our other employees to feel comfortable they can come forward," Giovanelli said.

The School Board got another letter three days later accusing the district of misusing school maintenance trucks. Photos and video show district employees and trucks working on Mount Hermon Ministries in Fort Myers. The letter asked the School Board to review and investigate. Board Member Steven Teuber said they already did.

"It was reported to the Superintendent. He immediately assigned an investigator to investigate, did a full investigation. I stand by our internal investigation and our recommendation of the Superintendent of no impropriety," Teuber said.

The School Board also said they refuse to spend taxpayer dollars on another investigation into this matter, citing the same disgruntled former employee.

The board voted 5-1 to report the findings of the investigation they already completed back to the state, and to again not spend taxpayer dollars on an investigation based on allegations from the same former disgruntled employee. Giovanelli was the only dissenting vote.

The School District said when it comes to Bonita Springs High School, they've been transparent concerning the funding and have changed their construction process. As for the case at Mount Hermon Ministries, the district said the church is a contracted site for their Early Head Start Partnership, and a tree stump damaged by Irma was a safety hazard.