Hillsborough school leader did not violate ethics rules, attorneys say

Superintendent Addison Davis is said to be without fault after a complaint about purchasing, other matters.
Hillsborough County School superintendent Addison Davis.
Hillsborough County School superintendent Addison Davis. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]
Published July 19, 2021

Investigators hired by the Hillsborough County School Board have responded to a state regulatory complaint against superintendent Addison Davis, saying Davis did not act improperly when he recommended a multimillion dollar curriculum purchase and, later, cut back on teaching staff to balance the budget.

The report comes in response to a complaint early in the year to the Florida Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General from a Tampa parent. The numerous issues the parent raised included the contention that Davis acted improperly when he recommended a deal with educational software provider Achieve 3000 without disclosing that his brother was a senior vice president at the company.

The $3.69 million purchase, which the School Board approved in June 2020, became an issue during that year’s election campaigns. Davis sought an opinion from his attorney, Jeff Gibson, who told him there was no conflict of interest because Mason Davis was neither involved in the deal nor in any position to make money from it.

Nevertheless, the parent’s complaint — which alleged other improprieties as well — required the board to conduct an investigation and file a response. The board hired the Tallahassee law firm of Sniffen & Spellman, which found the complaint was without merit.

The attorneys found that Mason Davis’s job at Achieve 3000 involved annual contracts under $200,000, not the type or size that would apply to Hillsborough County. The company’s chief executive confirmed that fact. And Addison Davis assured the attorneys that “he had no discussions with his brother at any time regarding Achieve 3000″ with respect to the school district.

The complaint also alleged a mishandling of federal COVID-19 relief funds as the district implemented staff cuts in the last school year. And the complaint said Davis had a tax-paid private driver “which cannot be justified in the slightest as he is not disabled and was able to drive.”

The lawyers researched the expenses the district incurred during the pandemic and the “systemic budget challenges” that Davis and his team were trying to overcome. They found that “there is no indication federal funds were not expended as allowed and required” by the state “or that any reductions in the district’s budget were not reviewed and approved by the School Board itself.”

On the issue of the private driver, district leaders told the attorneys the district has provided driver services to superintendents for at least the past seven years. Sometimes a security employee takes the wheel when the superintendent is traveling to a school or a district event where safety is in question. No federal funds were used to provide transportation or security, the attorneys found.

The report found no truth to an allegation that Davis had installed a back door in his office or that eight administrators he recruited from his previous school systems in Duval and Clay County were not qualified for their jobs. The attorneys wrote that they tried to contact the parent who had filed the complaint, but were not able to reach her.

“Given that, after investigation and review, we have not substantiated any of the Complainant’s allegations, we do not recommend any further action with respect to this matter by the School Board or the Superintendent,” they wrote in their report.