August 18, 2022

Passing the buck in Florida: Where’s Gov. Scott and Pam Bondi when you need them?

… and other folks for that matter!

When asked about mishaps that occurred during his presidency, President Harry S. Truman said, and pointed to the sign on his desk that read, “The buck stops here.”

Apparently, Gov. Rick Scott, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, bureau chiefs at the Florida Department of Education and the State Attorney for Miami-Dade County, Katherine Fernandez-Rundle missed that history lesson as passing the buck is alive and well in Florida.

Hard evidence was sent to each of these Constitutional officers and elected officials of various legal violations concerning professional development fraud, teacher certification fraud, teacher observation and evaluation fraud, and test cheating – all of which were documented in a state report issued by the Auditor General of Florida and a local report issued by the Miami-Dade Office of Inspector General.

Katherine-Fernandez Rundle, Miami-Dade State Attorney of the 11th Judicial Circuit, did not respond at all, stating she can do nothing per “local control,” and that the responsibility for investigation and resolution rests with the employee of the perpetrators – Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

So, the school district is supposed to police itself with no state legal oversight – conflict of interest?!  Interestingly, when a sheriff, mayor, city commissioner, or other local officials were suspected of an impropriety, the Governor of Florida has historically stepped in and suspended the local officeholders involved until a resolution was reached.

But school districts gets a free pass – local control!

State officials and the local state attorney, assuming the role of the neighbors reminiscent of Kitty Genovese, basically have a blind eye and turn their collective heads the other way. Students, teachers, and taxpayers are left to suffer and hold the bag resulting from missteps and misdeeds of school district employees.

After appearing before investigators with the Office of the Auditor General for the State of Florida and the Miami-Dade Office of Inspector General in April and May 2012, in which sworn statements, evidence, and produced two witnesses (teachers who corroborated the test cheating) were given, to ensure that these investigations would be acted upon by the state, it went to Governor Rick Scott for his leadership and emailed to his office.

Governor Scott’s Inspector General emailed a written response declining assistance for lack of jurisdiction and deferred to the Miami-Dade OIG which declined to investigate this particular matter as the Auditor General’s Office was investigating it.

On January 18, 2013, I emailed the FLDOE OIG, and I received a written response on February 6, 2013, claiming “lack of primary jurisdiction.”  One would think they would have a secondary jurisdiction to investigate violations of state law pertaining to test cheating and any and all related frauds (money) to protect students, teachers, and taxpayers.

Worse yet, I emailed Florida’s and Miami-Dade’s chief law enforcement officers, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle respectively, and the response was disappointing.

On March 8, 2013, Attorney General Bondi emailed me back basically citing lack of jurisdiction and passing the buck to the school district of all places and various local and federal agencies.

The Miami-Dade State Attorney did not respond whatsoever, though she did prosecute teachers and school administrators in the MOTET teacher certification scandal 8 years earlier.

In summation, concerning the various improprieties and related crimes (using computers to commit fraud, wire fraud, malfeasance, test cheating, and 20,000+ counts of record tampering and teacher certification fraud) I reported, Gov. Scott, Attorney General Bondi, FLDOE bureau chiefs, and Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle “sees no evil, hears no evil, and speaks no evil.”

Some agree with state officials when they claim to lack primary jurisdiction. However, they have a secondary jurisdiction and jurisdiction nonetheless given past gubernatorial and Florida Department of Law Enforcement actions when various local governments and their officials were suspected, and eventually convicted of, wrongdoing.

Though the state has inherent police and supervisory powers to enforce and regulate its laws, the State of Florida been a passive spectator concerning school districts.

The State of Florida could take a page from the State of Georgia, which was an active participant in the Atlanta test cheating scandal as Georgia aggressively and vigorously investigated Atlanta school district employees at all levels (teachers, principals, and the superintendent) and is in the process of prosecuting them all.

Georgia, in President Truman “the buck stops here” style, moved quickly and appropriately to protect the general public and taxpayers from test cheating and those who perpetrated it. Florida legislators may consider doing likewise.

To assist the state, the Florida Legislature can broaden its whistleblower protections from simply complaints from state employees in relation to state agencies to include any citizen, especially students, in relation to not only state agencies but local governments such as school boards.

As it stands now, students and teachers that would like to come forward to report and expose test cheating and other improprieties are afraid of reprisal and retaliation. The state should give them the legal whistleblower protections to do so, and be the active participants that they should be, as the general public and the taxpayer would be well served.

Trevor Colestock

Trevor Colestock has been the Library Media Specialist and a union steward at Miami Norland Senior High School for the past seven years. Mr. Colestock had been an ESE teacher at Miami Central Senior High School for seven years prior. Mr. Colestock holds an AA in History from Miami-Dade Community College, a BA in History from Florida International University, a Master’s in Library and Information Science from the University of South Florida, and a Specialist in Library and Information Studies from Florida State University.