The Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s investigation of former Belle Terre Elementary Principal Terence Culver found a “clear lack of standard accounting practices” in the way he ran the school’s Parent-Teacher Organization, “a poorly defined method of decision-making within the organization and questionable use of the collected funds but does not constitute probable cause that a crime has been committed.”
Culver suddenly “retired” from Belle Terre Elementary in late November 2019, not long after a Flagler Beach attorney filed a complaint with the school district and the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, on behalf of school employees and volunteers, alleging nepotism, misuse of funds, sexual harassment and other charges. “The staff of Belle Terre Elementary School has endured a toxic workplace for years, and they owe a debt of gratitude to the brave whistleblowers who came forward to share their stories,” Stephen Furnari, the attorney, wrote of his decision to file the complaint.
The district launched an internal investigation, which it completed in April 2020. That report found that Culver abused his privileged position “for personal gain or advantage,” accepted gifts in a way that opened him to claims of favoritism, lacked honesty, and was perceived as “creating a hostile work environment.” In other words ethical violations were sustained. Culver was long gone by the time the district’s investigation was completed, though by then the FDLE’s criminal investigation had started. The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office had referred the case to the state agency.
But FDLE’s investigation ended up tracking very closely to that of the school district, if in more detail, interviewing the same individuals and concluding much along the same lines–that Culver had managed the PTO’s business poorly, but that he did not do anything criminal. The investigation started in February 2020 and concluded in August 2020. But it was only tis month–a year later–that FDLE provided the report to FlaglerLive, following public record requests sent last year, starting in June, and including one in November. It isn’t clear why the report’s release was delayed until now.
Culver returned to Volusia County after his forced retirement and 35 years in education. The FDLE investigation confirms that “Culver agreed to retire in November of 2019 in lieu of facing formal discipline.”
He has been serving as the chapter president of a fraternity, a chapter that includes Flagler, St. Johns and Putnam Counties and is a dean for the fraternity’s Central Florida region–raising money for scholarships, organizing events and the like. He had been known as a popular principal running a successful school, going by its standardized testing.
Investigators interviewed Jennifer Paterno, president of the PTO and the complainant on whose behalf Furnari had interceded, along with a teacher, a school secretary, the PTO secretary, its treasurer, its co-vice-president and a former president, all of whom had been interviewed in the internal district investigation, as well as school board attorney Kristy Gavin. FDLE’s interviews were echoes of the district’s, FDLE found. The agency reviewed bank records and PTO records. Notably, FDLE did not interview Culver. The report does not say whether he declined to be interviewed. But other than richer details about the same incidents and the same irregularities, FDLE’s report does not substantially add to what’s already been reported, other than to close the book on the case.
Before his many years in Flagler Culver had been an assistant principal at New Smyrna Beach Middle School. He became assistant principal at Indian Trails Middle School before his elevation to Belle Terre principal, where he served for almost a decade.
The investigative report is below.