FDLE investigating school district transportation department
Notter: Investigation “too big” for district to handle alone
"We wanted to make sure, quite frankly, that we had an efficient investigation going," James Notter said. "I just don't have the capacity to do that." (Sun Sentinel, file)
Schools Superintendent James Notter said the investigation was multi-faceted, but he declined to disclose specifics. However, the Broward Teachers Union in December accused the department of everything from sexual harassment to nepotism to bus safety problems.
Notter said he asked the FDLE two weeks ago to step in.
"We wanted to make sure, quite frankly, that we had an efficient investigation going," Notter said. "I just don't have the capacity to do that."
FDLE spokeswoman Heather Smith declined to comment on what specifically agents are focused on, but said the agency only opens an investigation on criminal matters.
Still, she said, "we review and evaluate everything we receive to determine what is the appropriate course."
Sometimes, she said, the complaints they field don't rise to a criminal level. Other times, they may refer the case to another agency.
The school district launched its investigation into the transportation department in November. Its two top administrators — transportation services director Ruben Parker and student transportation director Lucille Greene — were reassigned, pending the investigation's outcome. They remain assigned to different jobs with the district.
Parker and Greene's personnel files both contain positive evaluations and letters of commendation. However, Greene was once suspended without pay for five days in 1997 after an accident involving two buses sent 25 Plantation Middle School students and the buses' drivers to the hospital.
Greene knew one of the drivers involved in the accident had a suspended license, but she failed to take that driver off the road, according to her file.
The teachers union has asked Gov. Charlie Crist and Attorney General Bill McCollum for an independent investigation into the transportation department. Crist's office referred the request to the Office of the Statewide Prosecutor, while McCollum's office said the union's concerns are outside the attorney general's jurisdiction.
Union President Pat Santeramo encouraged people to call in tips to the statewide grand jury selected this month.
"The grand jury is really the best chance to end corruption in Broward schools, whether that be [at] the K.C. Wright Building, the transportation department or construction program," Santeramo said.
This isn't the first time the district has turned to the FDLE for help. In 2007, state law enforcement agents were called in to investigate a school district electrician accused of stealing copper wiring. In 2005, FDLE agents were asked to investigate a Nova Middle School seventh-grader accused of e-mailing death threats to two teachers.
The agency also has, at the behest of the Florida Department of Education, looked into allegations of teachers changing students' answers on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
School Board Chairwoman Jennifer Gottlieb said calling on the FDLE was the proper move for the district.
"There are a lot of allegations," Gottlieb said. "I don't know what they are, I don't know the facts of the case, but it really needs to be a professional law enforcement investigation, with resources greater than ours."
Staff Writer Megan O'Matz contributed to this report.
Kathy Bushouse can be reached at kbushouse@SunSentinel.com or 954-356-4556.