BY JENNIFER CABRERA
The Alachua County School Board has been warned that Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon, who is facing a vote tomorrow night on termination of her contract, has potentially exposed the school district to a costly lawsuit after she requested an investigation based on allegations that she herself sent to the school board via email. The investigation, which the employee’s attorney called a “fishing expedition,” recently concluded with a “no probable cause” finding.
A pre-suit notice letter from Bryan Boukari, attorney for Camp Crystal Lake Director Scott Burton, alleges that Simon sent an email to the school board on November 5, 2021, making numerous accusations of fraud against Burton, and that the email itself broke several laws and violated Burton’s constitutional rights.
The email used phrases such as “multiple financial mismanagement issues,” “questionable financial issues,” “serious concerns with financial mismanagement and fraud,” “apparent fraud,” “extreme nature of the situation,” “discoveries that we have found since I began our investigation,” “financial issues at Camp Crystal Lake,” “minimal financial oversight or controls,” “discovery stage of this investigation,” “list of problems,” “misuse of taxpayer funds,” “managed poorly, to say the least,” “significant issues,” “concerns,” “additional concerns,” and “clean up … long- standing yet hidden financial issues.” The email alleged, among other things, that camp scholarships were not awarded in a “fair and transparent” process.
Simon then allegedly used her own email to the board as the basis for requesting a Human Resources investigation into Burton, and Burton was placed on administrative leave on January 19, 2022, and denied access to his email account, which left him unable to look up information in response to several questions from the investigators.
The Investigation Review Committee met on February 16 and found “no probable cause for disciplinary action against Scott Burton,” based on a “preponderance of evidence.”
A letter from Boukari to Simon claims that Burton, who has been at Camp Crystal Lake since 2013, has continued to follow the procedures that were in place when he got there. Boukari further states that the policies that Burton is alleged to have violated “exist only in the mind of the Superintendent.” Boukari says that Burton has not been served with any complaint, “just a fishing expedition, spearheaded by Superintendent Carlee Simon.” Boukari also says that “not a single allegation was raised against my client to establish a prima facie basis to sustain any violation by my client of any Board policy.”
A second letter, dated February 8, from Boukari to Board Chair Rob Hyatt, warns that Simon’s actions have left the board vulnerable to a defamation lawsuit; the letter asks for a retraction and renouncement of the allegations in Simon’s email to the board. Boukari says that Simon’s email to the board “falls squarely within the scope of Florida’s defamation laws” and that Simon has broken the law in several ways. One example given by Boukari is her failure to keep the investigation confidential, in direct contravention of Florida Statute § 1012.31.
Boukari’s letter concludes, “At best, the Superintendent’s actions display a level of gross incompetence that is difficult to imagine this board would accept. At worst, and more likely, we believe, is that Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon intentionally targeted Mr. Burton, maligning his impeccable character and reputation. What is so shameful is that we believe she did this not out of concern for Camp Crystal Lake but as a means to yet again promote her hand-picked personal assistant who she has already fast tracked over the last year.”
Simon says her initial email “speaks for itself.” She continued, “Regardless of the outcome of the investigation we do know that we need to correct our internal systems associated with Camp Crystal… One of my top priorities has been to examine and improve all internal systems and policies throughout the district to protect taxpayer funds. We are already establishing increased oversight and accountability mechanisms to address the concerns that I shared in my initial email to the board.”
The redacted investigative report can be read here.