- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 13, 2014

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - The Fairbanks school board has fired its superintendent, citing incompetence in investigating and retaining employees, including a tutor now charged with felony counts of sexual abuse of a minor.

The vote Monday night was unanimous to fire Pete Lewis, who has five days to appeal the action. Lewis said he would review his options.

Lewis is not without community support, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (https://is.gd/jXgtZH) reported. The board’s executive assistant sobbed as she called the roll for the vote to fire the superintendent. One district employee stood and turned her back to the board in protest as Fairbanks North Star Borough School Board President Heidi Haas read a statement.

The board cited a “total failure of leadership” by Lewis in the investigation and retention of employees, including Claude Fowlkes III, 34, a tutor at Hutchison High School who was arrested in March and charged with six counts of abusing a student at the school.

“Significant allegations and observations of ‘grooming’ and other alarming behavior with students were either not understood or were not dealt with in a serious manner,” Haas said in a statement signed by all board members.

Problems began at Fowlkes’ previous assignment at another Fairbanks school, Haas said, but the Hutchison principal was not made aware of them, Haas said.

Fowlkes from 2008 to 2014 was the subject of at least three complaints regarding conduct toward male students or minors. He violated district policy and engaged in inappropriate behavior with a male student at Tanana Middle School, the board said, but remained employed.

The superintendent’s unwillingness to perform his duties or inability to do them exposed students to harm and the district to legal vulnerability, the board said. Despite inappropriate student contact, Fowlkes received a glowing recommendation, Haas said.

Lewis allowed an employee to routinely work mornings and nights without being paid, putting the district out of compliance with federal wage and hour laws, Haas said, and fostered an attitude of disrespect toward the board that has permeated down to other staff members, Haas said.

“No effective working relationship exists between you and the board,” Haas said.

Lewis has been on paid leave since April 7.

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Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, https://www.newsminer.com

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