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State investigation: Putnam County School officials violated law in sale of property

A state investigation into the sale of a former Putnam County school building found district officials including the superintendent Rick Surrency violated the law.

A state investigation into the sale of a former Putnam County school building found district officials including the superintendent Rick Surrency violated the law.

Tucked away between a baseball field and a Palatka neighborhood stands the Campbell Building. The two-story cream-colored building is the former home of the Putnam County School District offices, and for years sat vacant. Efforts to sell the property for market value have failed.

In October 2017, superintendent Rick Surrency called an emergency meeting with the school board to decide how the district could dump the property while still benefiting. Surrency said in a sworn testimony that it was his belief if the district did not sell the building, a Charter School of Hope from outside the county could come in and use it.

“We were not trying to break any law or circumvent anything at all so again we respect what the law says and our intent is to follow the law to the fullest extent,” Surrency said.

The property was sold for $10 to Lift Putnam, a group that offers financial assistance to parents of pre-kindergarten students. According to the report from the Florida Department of Education Office of the Inspector General, Lift Putnam was previously a direct-support-organization (DSO) but became a non-direct support organization to participate in the purchase of the Campbell Building.

The report explains Lift Putnam would give proceeds from a future sale of the building minus expenses back to the district for use toward pre-kindergarten scholarships. Putnam Lift later sold the property to a charter school, Putnam Edge High School, for $450,000 according to the state report.

“Our intent was with money made from the building we were going to use to help our students,” Surrency said.

However, Florida state law indicates that property sales would need to direct proceeds to capital improvements across the district.

“We were trying to help the students of Putnam county we weren’t out trying to waste the money or spend it on something outside our mission,” Surrency said.

The superintendent added he does not see a need to change the law, but in certain situations would ask for leeway for the district to use money as it deems would benefit students. Surrency said the district has already complied with the Inspector General recommendations to create a policy for handling property.