Employee misconduct probes need more than an educator's eye, Stewart says
Who should investigate complaints of misconduct among Pinellas County school district employees?
According to superintendent John Stewart, it should be someone with strong investigative skills -- and not necessarily an educator.
In a 5-2 vote Tuesday on a last-minute agenda addition, board members approved changing the minimum qualifications for an administrator in the Office of Professional Standards from someone with a masters degree and educational leadership experience to someone who has a "minimum of five years investigative experience in public or privater education, law enforcement, private industry, or government."
Kim Black, president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers' Association, said she was surprised that the item appeared suddenly before the board Tuesday. She argued against the move, saying that an understanding of educational issues is key to many of the cases that come before OPS, since not all of the matters are criminal in nature.
"You already have investigators," Black said. "You have a police unite that can do investigations. You have attorneys. So I'm not sure what the (new) minimum qualifications are for."
Stewart said he added the last-minute agenda item the the board Tuesday because the person who was formerly in that position, Sandra Kemp, had been reassigned and there are 83 open investigations that need to be tended to as soon as possible. Kemp came to the position last year from a principalship.
"I think we're probably looking at things through educators' eyes and I think the worst thing we can do is paint it just as an educator piece," Stewart said. "We have thousands of employees in the district who are referred for investigations. And the thing you want this individual to have is investigative skills so they can look into things the way we should look at them...Having a master's degree in education does not necessarily make you a good investigator."
Ron Ciranna, the assistant superintendent over Human Resources, said the new job description is the "norm in the industry."
Board members Linda Lerner and Janet Clark said they would have preferred to talk about the matter more during a workshop. They both dissented. But even board chairwoman Robin Wikle, who voted to approve the matter, asked Stewart to try to avoid bringing last-minute job description changes to the board in the future.
"This is definitely something that coulda, shoulda, woulda been a workshop item," Wikle said.
To see the new job decription, click here, open the Feb. 21, 2012 agenda and go to page 287.