Chiles High principal suspended for two weeks, accused of misusing funds

Joe Burgess was originally accused of the misconduct in 2021
Leon County school bus
Leon County school bus(WCTV)
Published: Sep. 8, 2023 at 6:38 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - The First District Court of Appeal upheld a lower court ruling this week enforcing a two-week suspension for the Lawton Chiles High School principal, LCS said in a statement Friday.

The court found Principal Joe Burgess guilty of violating district policies. The two week suspension will begin Monday, September 11 and will be without pay. Assistant Principal Grace Bigelow will serve as the lead administrator during the suspension.

Accusations that the longtime administrator misused funds appropriated for Advanced Placement students date back to July 2021. Burgess disputed the allegations, and after a third party group concluded an investigation, the Leon County School Board sent the issue to a state-level mediator.

LCS Superintendent Rocky Hanna recommended the mandatory leave after Burgess was accused of improperly paying employees for extra work and falsified payroll records. But the investigation also found insufficient evidence to decide conclusively if Burgess violated any law, and investigative documents said the district’s guidance on the issue can be unclear at times.

After the ruling became public, the principal continued disputing the allegations. He defended his actions, saying if the district believes he was wrong, then he does not want to be right.

A full response from Burgess regarding the suspension is below:

“I am aware of the Court’s decision and am disappointed by the superintendent’s decision to still place me on suspension,” Burgess said. “To be clear, I paid teachers for doing extra-duty work—something that every school principal is expected to do on behalf of the students and families they serve. This decision is the height of hypocrisy, given that the superintendent, along with current and former principals, did the same for their schools.

Despite the histrionics of the current superintendent, he, along with multiple other people, reaffirmed under oath that I am an honest person and a rule-follower. I am effectively being punished for an alleged inadvertent procedural error for which the superintendent has yet to establish a policy.

Prior violations in policy committed by administrators in Leon County Schools included lying, falsifying records, creating an abusive work environment, failing to report, and failing to protect students, along with countless other violations that resulted only in coaching memos or written reprimands.

It’s a sad day for the parents and students in Leon County Schools when paying teachers for doing more work results in a two-week suspension of the principal. If that’s wrong, I don’t want to be right. I will continue to do my job as I have always done for Leon County Schools for the past 25 years.”

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