State Ethics Commission Agrees To Fine For Tony Bennett
Former Superintendent will not be charged with manipulating A-F Grades
Jul. 09, 2014
(wibc.com file photo)
In a quick hearing, the State Ethics Commission voted to accept a $5,000 fine against former state school Superintendent Tony Bennett, a fine Bennett agreed to pay.
Bennett agreed to the fine after Inspector General David Thomas found in a report that Bennett used his state office for political activity. The violation was discovered after a series of reports from the Associated Press in 2013 which revealed, among other things, a list of donors for Bennett's re-election campaign in 2012 was stored on his state office computer.
Thomas cleared Bennett of more serious charges that he and his staff manipulated the state's A-to-F grading formula for schools to benefit Christel House Academy, a charter school founded by Christel DeHaan, a political supporter of Bennett and many other elected officials. Christel House initially received a grade of C for the 2011-12 school year, but after adjustments were made by Bennett's staff, the school received an A.
Emails obtained by the AP showed that Bennett's staff was worried about the initial grade, since Bennett had long touted Christel House as one of the best schools in the state. Bennett said changes were made to the grading formula because, he says, it was obvious something was amiss when a school such as Christel House received a low grade. Thomas's report says the grading formula change was applied to at least 16 other schools. "(W)e find it relevant that it appears that schools which were awarded higher adjusted grades received fewer funds as a result," Thomas wrote.
After Bennett lost the 2012 election to Ritz, Thomas's report says Bennett had his Department of Education staff compile a list of contacts for him. The staff sent Bennett a list of campaign donors and other supporters, which were placed on a state-owned server. Thomas found that this violated ethics law, as did Bennett's listing of campaign events on his government email calendar and meetings between his department and campaign staffs to coordinate his public appearances.
The AP's stories about the emails came after Bennett became education commissioner in Florida. Though he denied doing anything wrong, he resigned the Florida post in August 2013, saying he didn't want the stories to distract from the business of Florida schools.