STUART, Fla. — The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is reviewing allegations that Martin County Schools Superintendent Nancy Kline cheated on a certification exam in 2009.
In a memo to School Board Attorney Doug Griffin dated Jan. 22, Kim Sabol, the district's labor/employment representative, wrote that Terrie Kenney, a former consultant and volunteer with the district, claimed Kline phoned Kenney "for help in answering test questions while taking what Ms. Kenney later learned was a certification examination for the Florida Superintendent Special Certification Program."
A Nov. 20, 2009, letter to Lori Shekailo, then the school board chairwoman, from William J. Montford III, CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, announced Kline had successfully completed the certification program, passed the exam and was therefore "entitled to receive the $2,000 per year salary supplement."
In her Nov. 24, 2009, "Update from the Superintendent" column on the district website, Kline wrote that the voluntary program "provides extensive training in school law, school finance, collective bargaining and leadership. I found this program to be extremely valuable."
Joy Frank, general counsel for the association, declined to comment, saying the allegations could lead to an investigation.
According to the memo, Kenney reported Kline called from a hotel room, said some of the questions were "really hard" and admitted she didn't attend all the class sessions leading up to the test.
When Kenney suggested Kline call Frank Raffone, the district's assistant superintendent, for help on some questions, "the superintendent did not say anything in response."
Kline's unwillingness to get help from a school official "solidified" for Kenney that the superintendent "knew what she was doing was wrong," Sabol wrote.
"Ms. Kenney said the test was comprised of essay questions and multiple choice questions and that Ms. Kline kept asking her, 'What about this one?' or 'Listen to this,'" Sabol wrote. "Ms. Kenney said she remembered much about the test, the questions and the answers she helped Ms. Kline select or compose."
According to Sabol, Kenney said she "didn't want her name in the papers or in the blogs" and said she was "very uncomfortable" with pursuing the allegations.
"She told me that if I did come forward," Sabol wrote, "and she was questioned, all she would ever admit to was the phone call(s)."
Kenney reportedly suggested to Sabol that Kline's calls could have been allowed because it was an "open book exam."
Sabol wrote that she replied, "Terrie, open book, if that is even true, does not mean cheating!"
"These allegations have no credibility – this is nothing more than a smear campaign," Kline said Monday night.
Kenney and Sabol could not be reached for comment.
Keith Kameg, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, confirmed the agency has received information about the allegations.
"At this point it is being reviewed to determine if an investigation is warranted," Kameg said, adding that he did not know when that determination will be made.
In a March 1 memo, Griffin sent a copy of the allegations to school board members, noting the complaint was sent to him under the anti-fraud provision of district policy.
The policy was amended at a board meeting Jan. 17 to include: "If the allegation involves the superintendent or a school board member, the allegation shall be referred to the school board attorney. If the school board attorney determines that the allegations appear to involve criminal misconduct, the matter shall be referred to the sheriff's office."
Kenney apparently began working for the district as a consultant in November 2008. One contract called for her to be paid up to $12,000 from March 1 to June 30, 2009, to provide "operations transition assistance" for Kline. The contract called for her to "collect information from district personnel about past practices, processes and budget management within each department" and work with Kline in "determining the most effective methods of providing services within the district."
The issue of the allegations is not on the agenda of a special school board meeting at 10 a.m. Tuesday, and Board Chairwoman Sue Hershey said she didn't know if the subject will be broached.
"These allegations need to be addressed," Hershey said, "but I don't know if I'll bring it up. There's nothing the board can do anyway because (Kline is) an elected official. We don't have the ability to sanction her. Short of criminal charges, it would be up to the governor to remove her or the public to vote her out of office."
Kline is up for re-election this year, facing a challenge by School Board member Laurie Gaylord.