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Superintendent, board blasted for unethical behavior

STORY BY MEG LAUGHLIN, (Week of November 22, 2012)
Photo of School Superintendent Fran Adams

A long-time Florida state senator who led the drive to make double-dipping by retiring government employees illegal has blasted School Superintendent Fran Adams and Indian River County School Board members for conspiring with their outside lawyer to circumvent the law.

“It’s very disappointing that a government entity would go to this extreme to allow someone to double dip,” said Rep. Mike Fasano, who sponsored the legislation as a state senator. “The law was created so we wouldn’t have such unethical behavior. I blame the Indian River School Board members who voted for this arrangement and the school superintendent for allowing this to happen.”

Fasano’s comments came upon learning that the school board, at the behest of Adams, had voted to hire a “Dr. Singer” as head of human resources in Indian River County and launder his compensation for seven months through the law firm of the school board’s  counsel, Suzanne D’Agresta.

Stuart Singer, 66, is currently chief of special programs, information and technology  for the Osceola County school district, after having been personnel chief there for seven years.

Later this month, after having completed a five-year deferred retirement (DROP) program with the Osceola County school system where he got a pension lump sum payment of about $80,000 while he collected his salary, Singer will retire, continue to get his pension and come to work for the Indian River County school district full time.

But Indian River County taxpayers won’t pay him. They will pay D’Agresta’s Orlando law firm, instead. 

The arrangement enables Singer to circumvent the law that says DROP retirees from a public school system cannot collect a salary as government employees for six months after they retire.  

As an example of how this program is supposed to work, former Indian River County School Superintendent Harry J. La Cava, Adams predecessor, retired in 2011, waited six months, and then began applying for similar positions in other Florida counties.

D’Agresta, who apparently proposed the irregular arrangement to Superintendent Adams, told Vero Beach 32963  that the arrangement was made for the school system to pay her firm for Singer “because DROP with the Florida Retirement System prohibits participants from turning around and working at a job like this.”

School board member Carol Johnson, one of four members of the five-person board who voted for the arrangement, said she was “very comfortable with my vote to hire Dr. Singer and have his pay go to the law firm. Our focus is not to get around the law, but to fill a need. It is absolutely not unethical.” 

But that’s certainly not the view of the man who helped write the law.  “No matter how you look at it,” said Fasano, “you can’t get around the fact that this person is circumventing the law with the help of a law firm, a school board and a superintendent. Shame on them.”