It could take up to three months to complete an ethics investigation of Bibb schools Superintendent Sharon Patterson and two of her deputy superintendents, the Georgia Professional Standards Commission said.
School board members Gary Bechtel and Lynn Farmer filed an ethics complaint Sept. 24 against the school system administrators, who were notified of the probe Nov. 30.
The complaint alleges that Patterson and deputy superintendents Sylvia McGee and Mack Bullard investigated two school principals for misconduct but the information wasn’t turned over to the standards commission. Those principals eventually resigned.
The state agency issues teacher certificates and holds educators accountable.
A school board meeting set for Monday could resolve who will represent the school board and who will represent Patterson and the deputy superintendents, since the same law firm — Jones, Cork & Miller — generally represents all of them.
The Georgia Professional Standards Commission requires that those who suspect ethics violations against an educator to file a complaint with the agency within 90 days.
Bechtel said Thursday that he filed the complaint not out of malice, but because that provision wasn’t followed.
“We could have gone (to the commission) if she had shared the information about the (principals’) behavior ... but that information was never shared with us,” Bechtel said. Going to the commission “resulted from information we became aware of that these investigations did not result in charges being filed, and we both felt they should have and we had an obligation to bring that fact to the attention of the PSC.”
Bechtel added, “I do not know if any actions from the (commission) will result from this, but if the three administrators acted appropriately, the investigation will bear that out. But if the investigation determines that they did not act appropriately, it is up to the (commission) to determine sanctions, and the board at that time will have decisions to make.”
Patterson denies that she or her staff did anything wrong, and she said she believes the commission will rule accordingly.
At a called news conference Wednesday, Patterson said she did notify the standards commission — but did not remember when — about former Appling Middle School principal Robert Stevenson’s investigation.
The standards commission said Thursday that it was notified of Stevenson’s investigation about Nov. 16.
He resigned recently after an investigation of allegations that he had verbally and physically abused students.
In his resignation letter, Stevenson denied any misconduct.
“Earlier this year a student made an allegation that I had used undue force in breaking up a fight at Appling Middle School,” the letter said. “I have steadfastly maintained that I did not use undue force. However, this event has resulted in a significant amount of negative publicity for me and the school that has been disruptive to the mission of Appling.”
Patterson said she did not notify the commission about former Northeast High School principal Sam Scavella’s having an affair with a subordinate at his school. Patterson said school system attorneys advised her that the case didn’t require reporting.
Scavella, who resigned in May, did not return a message left Thursday at his new job in Atlanta.
Georgia school superintendents have had ethics complaints lodged against them before, even by school board members, said Gary Walker, director of the commission’s ethics division.
He said he couldn’t provide an exact number, since his office was preparing for a commission meeting.
In the past five years, the commission has investigated 7,132 ethics cases against state educators and formally sanctioned 2,552 of them. At least 613 of the cases were found to have put children at serious risk.
The commission investigates complaints of improper conduct, including inappropriate relationships, mishandling public funds, violating state and federal laws and endangering students. It also investigates any criminal history among teacher applicants.
In the Bibb complaint, the commission will issue its findings as soon as the case is closed, Walker said.
The commission may find Patterson and her deputies not guilty, or it could impose disciplinary sanctions ranging from warnings to certificate suspensions or revocations.
Other Bibb County school board members contacted Thursday did not return a phone call or did not want to comment about the complaint.
To contact writer Julie Hubbard, call 744-4331.