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State fires vouchers whistle-blower

Robert Metty accused officials of public records violations and tried to create a database to track voucher use at the state Education Department.

By Associated Press
Published March 7, 2004

TALLAHASSEE - The state Education Department fired a whistle-blower whose complaint helped lead to a criminal charge and several investigations of the state's school voucher programs.

Robert Metty, 35, who pushed for accountability standards a year before the department accepted them, was fired Friday by Jim Warford, the chancellor for K-12 schools. No written reason was given.

Metty said he was fired for "political payback because of the public relations damage I have caused them." He said he plans to sue to get his job back.

Department spokeswoman Frances Marine said Metty was one of six employees at the agency to lose their jobs Friday as part of the agency's latest reorganization. "The position he was in was not seen as vital," she said. Warford declined to specifically discuss Metty's case.

Metty was director of scholarship programs in the Office of School Choice when he filed a complaint in April alleging a co-worker had cut off the bottoms of faxed letters he had received on the financial condition of schools that wanted to participate in the corporate voucher program.

The letters had been requested by the Palm Beach Post, and the alleged alterations were hidden when the faxes were received. Metty said in his whistle-blower letter that the action violated the public records law and that a supervisor, by requesting his silence on the matter, was trying to cover it up.

A department inspector general decided in June that Metty's complaint was unfounded. Metty kept his $53,300 annual salary but was transferred from his management-level job to one without any clear tasks.

Memos and e-mails also showed Metty tried for months to implement a database to track which students were attending schools using vouchers. Gov. Jeb Bush didn't embrace the system until last fall after months of reports in the Post about actual and potential fraud and abuse.

Florida Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher issued two reports in December finding numerous instances of fraud and abuse in the programs. At least six separate investigations, some criminal, of the state's three voucher programs and the K-8 virtual school program are now under way.

Metty said he also provided testimony in another case that resulted in criminal charges against a bankrupt Ocala correspondence school operator.

[Last modified March 7, 2004, 01:35:55]

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