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Chiles principal Joe Burgess fights a 2-week suspension for falsifying timesheets to pay teachers more

leon county schools

The clock is now running on when, or if, Chiles Principal Joe Burgess will serve a two-week suspension for doling out extra payments to some employees without properly tracking or documenting their time.

The Leon School Board agreed Tuesday to an administrative judge’s ruling that Burgess willfully broke the rules. The rulingalso makes clear the district cannot override it.

Burgess is accused of effectively falsifying time sheets to dole out salary enhancements to some of his employees.

Instead of properly tracking time and documenting the work, Burgess used a formula method to determine how to spend the money. He has argued the school district didn’t have a clear policy on the matter. Yet the judge said while Burgess may have meant well, state law trumps his argument and the popular principal should have known better.

Burgess has gotten a lot of community support from current and former Chiles students, and parents like Sue Matthew.

“Mr. Burgess has made a huge impact in my kids’ lives and I’m so grateful for that. I just really wanted to come here and support him. You’re not going to meet a nicer guy and a more supportive guy, and I just wanted to show my support," Matthew told school board members ahead of the vote to ratify the judge's ruling.

The salary enhancements Burgess doled out also skirted the local teacher’s union’s collective bargaining agreement. Those agreements set salaries, and also outline compensation for extra duties worked. Burgess was initially supposed to serve a two-week suspension in the summer, but the legal back-and-forth has stalled that. The school board’s decision to ratify the administrative ruling now gives Burgess 30 days to file an appeal to the district court.

The issue has led to accusations that Leon Superintendent Rocky Hanna has treated Burgess unfairly, which Hanna denies. He said when the problem was first brought to his attention last year, he hired an outside investigator to look into it and noted the judge agreed with the investigator's findings.

"I know this has not been an easy situation for all of us. But we have a job to do," Hanna said before pivoting to accuse Burgess' attorneys for taking a "scorched earth" approach which caught up other district employees.

The funding Burgess used for the extra payments came from Advanced Placement dollars the state awards to schools that offer the course and have students successfully pass the exams. School principals do have discretion over how to use the money—but per the administrative judge's ruling and the investigator's findings, Burgess' decision to not properly record the time worked for the extra duties, nor explaining what those duties were in some cases, amounted to "misconduct in office and/or willful neglect of duty."

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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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