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Pons, Leon School Board Fire Back On Construction Allegations


Leon County School district officials are taking aim at what they call “politically motivated” attacks against Superintendent Jackie Pons. The district used a workshop meeting on construction to address allegations Pons steered construction contracts to his political donors.

“No one wants to talk about the red elephant in the room. I’m tired of it," said School Board Member Dee Crumpler during Monday night's workshop on district construction policies. Crumpler isn't shying away from how he feels about the allegations against Superintendent Pons and other district officials raised by an anonymous group.

"I’m tired of seeing a couple of people try to destroy an award-winning superintendent and the good work of this district," he said.

Calling the allegations, "politically motivated," Crumpler says the allegations that Pons and other district officials steered millions in construction projects to political donors is off-base.

“It would have to be a super conspiracy for this whole board and all those people to get up and say we’re going to give those contracts to one person, he said."

Crumpler and other board members say they’ve tried to keep dollars local and spread contracts around to local vendors, especially when the state and the county was in an economic slump. The district and more than 50 others, use a no-bid system outlined in state law to pick vendors when projects come in under $2 million.

Meanwhile, after weeks of silence, Superintendent Pons is finally speaking.

“I was really wanting to wait until the last report was finished—this one done by our board members—but I did think it was important that I start talking about this," Pons said after the board meeting. I love our system, I’m proud of it...and I think I have to be available to answer any questions that come up.”

Pons says he’s not going to name his accusers or speak negatively about them in public. Instead he plans to focus on the district, but admits the allegations have taken their toll:

“One thing that’s been good for me is, there’s been a thorough vetting of everything I’ve ever done in my life. But again, I wouldn’t think it’s helpful in any way, but I’m going to focus on running this school district and dong the best I can to make our district better every day," he said.

The school district has conducted several reviews of the projects in question and is also awaiting the result of another external review. None of the completed reviews have turned up wrongdoing. The Florida Department of Education and Florida Department of Enforcement, along with the FBI have received copies of the documents outlining the allegations. FDLE says it’s still reviewing the files and the FBI doesn’t comment on current or potential investigations.  The School Board and Pons have hired separate attorneys. District administrator Rocky Hanna—whose move from principal of Leon High School to the district prompted protests by his supporters—is claiming whistleblower protection for his role in distributing the documents, though Hanna says he did not compile them.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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