There were tears before the special school board meeting even began to address the fate of a beloved principal’s otherwise flawless work file.
Early Monday morning, members of the Leon County School Board overruled Chiles High School Principal Joe Burgess’ objections to a suspension that was upheld by Administrative Hearing Department Judge GW Chisenhall.
The two-week suspension for Burgess would stand.
School board member Alva Striplin withdrew from the vote as soon as President Darryl Jones called the meeting to order. She said her relationship with Burgess would not allow her to vote impartially.
“He was there for me during what was the lowest point of my life,” she said, tearing up.
She then left the stage and hugged Burgess, who was seated in the audience, before leaving the building.
Continued:Chiles principal loses challenge to two-week suspension by Leon County Schools
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Burgess is accused of violating district policy by paying teachers for extra work without documentation.
Burgess, however, said he was not violating a clear policy, that the school board had not proven that they had trained him on a clear policy, and that he was unaware of having violated a school board procedure that states that it is the principal’s responsibility to review records for accuracy. and approve them.
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A reluctant vote followed by a promise to appeal
Ahead of deliberations, board member Dee Dee Rasmussen said the case consisted of 1,132 pages of transcript and 1,762 pages of exhibits.
She was holding a thick binder, filled with colored tabs and highlights.
“I’m going to have a lot to say about that beyond the confines of this proceeding today,” she said.
School board members were told that they must have substantial jurisdiction to change DOAH’s recommendations. Members argued that many of Burgess’s objections were outside of the district’s power.
Jones read the appeal to the board of directors, Superintendent Rocky Hanna, and a small audience of district employees and Burgess supporters.
Jones, Rasmussen, Georgia “Joy” Bowen and Rosanne Wood were left to vote. They reluctantly decided to overrule each of Burgess’s objections.
Burgess filed six objections to the recommended order, including that the district failed to prove it violated a policy, that there was no training on timesheet procedures, and that the court found erred in refusing to let Burgess present evidence of bias and motive.
The recommended order upheld by the DOAH judge agreed with Leon County Schools’ decision to briefly suspend Burgess for two weeks for “misconduct in the performance of duty and/or willful dereliction of duty.”
Because some of the approved time was paid without proof, the judge agreed with the district and said Burgess had approved payroll information he knew to be inaccurate.
Chisenhall, the DOAH judge, said the case “is an example of how the end does not always justify the means…Burgess had a system in place that allowed him to distribute unauthorized supplements without any oversight.” .
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Stephen Webster, Burgess’ attorney, said that although the district alleged that Burgess did not keep accurate time cards, the district did not have a procedure indicating that Burgess’s way of keeping records was flawed.
“Now this policy that is not in the policy, and this procedure that does not apply, and this practice that every manager has done – including Rocky Hanna – now deserves a two-week suspension?” Asked Webster in a phone call with the Tallahassee Democrat.
Hanna denied violating district payroll policy when he was principal of Leon High School.
Webster said Burgess plans to appeal again.
Board members: ‘We have a culpability here’
Council member Rasmussen criticized the district’s lack of policy regarding training for documenting time worked.
“It is absolutely clear to me, as it has been for some time, that we cannot wait for the staff and the superintendent to introduce these policies,” she said. “If we want to see policies, we’re going to have to bring them in ourselves.”
Wood said the decision was difficult for her and everyone else on the school board, including the superintendent.
“I’d like to see new board policies that really put these things in writing, in cement, so there’s no ambiguity,” Wood said. “People want to play by the rules, but they need to know what the rules are.”
Bowen, who said she’s known Burgess since he was 17, said “difficult” was an understatement.
“I wanted to run away from that. I didn’t,” she said. “It’s not easy. None of these jobs are, but we’ll get the job done.”
Rasmussen apologized to Burgess, who was seated in the back row of chairs, holding his wife’s hand.
“We also have a guilt here,” Rasmussen said. “I hope you take some comfort from this, and I hope we can move on and you can continue to do great things.”
Leon County Schools sent the following statement via email Monday afternoon:
“The Leon County School Board voted unanimously (with Board Member Striplin abstaining) to dismiss the objections filed by counsel for Mr. Joe Burgess and approve the recommended DOAH Final Order.”
The final written order reflecting Council’s actions today will be added to the consent agenda for the April 12 meeting.
Contact Ana Goñi-Lessan at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @goni_lessan.
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