A contract was ratified in the Monroe County School District

Andy Griffiths, school board member for Monroe County schools, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM yesterday to discuss what’s been going on in the district.

A new contract was ratified recently.

Griffiths said, “That’s really exciting and one of our biggest stories of the day. I actually went to a conference last week in Tampa with all the school boards, but at the last hour of the conference, the light sized districts get together and have discussions, share experiences and solutions and challenges. So there are 39 out of 67 small counties in Florida. If you add up all the students they would come in third place behind Miami Dade and Broward and we’re a member of the small district group it’s 20,000 students or less. The topic of the contract came out for the teachers and the support employees and I can tell you that at the table, we were in the minority at having a contract already in place for the coming school year. There were some that didn’t have a contract in place for the previous school years. That’s not a place you want to be.”

Raises for support staff and teachers are included in the new contract. Beginning teachers will start at $61,500. That does not include any stipends or opportunities for extra income.

Griffiths said, “We know it’s very, very expensive to find housing down here, but at least we do have a salary that’s now pretty significant. Perhaps if, if two teachers could cohabitate, they would have a pretty good combined income. I’m always asking people that might be empty nesters that have an extra bedroom in their house and could use a little income supplement, maybe they could rent that room out to a teacher. We just really, really need to find these folks housing because we’re not breaking ground on Trumbo tomorrow, but we are making progress. We think we can house 140 units down there, which could be over 200 employees. If it’s 200 teachers, we only have 600 total. So getting that property online could be a game changer for our recruitment and retention. I will tell you it will be unbelievably helpful. If you look at other affordable housing projects for whatever employee need there might be, when you really do the analysis and look at those because of all the strings that are attached to some of these tax credits, you don’t really get 100% of needy people that are crucial to our community. That’s the problem with this whole affordable housing idea. If it’s not 100% critical people that you need in this community, when you build more housing, you’re just making the problem worse.”

The units at Trumbo could include support staff as well.

Griffiths pointed out, “It could be it could be bus drivers, maintenance workers and the sheriff’s department has one acre kind of in the middle of our five acres. So there’s going to be people that work for the sheriff, and they’re breaking ground this year. So what’s wonderful about staging this project is we can move and our admin people will be the last to leave and those buildings will come down. But when the project is finished, it will all look like one unified project that was all designed at the same time. That’s what’s great about having the same developer on board. We’ll know shortly when the sheriff gets finished. I think he’s going to have 20 units going up there. We’ll have a really good idea what it’s going to look like.”

There is also a housing project for the school district in the Upper Keys as well.

Griffiths said, “I had a meeting with the folks that are very close to that project. One of my suggestions actually, when I saw the cost per unit was extraordinary, for just a few more thousand, you could elevate those units eight feet up so there wouldn’t be a flood issue that we’ve had a lot of in the Upper Keys. Also when you elevate the house, you have parking underneath, storage underneath. It just it’s a no brainer to put these homes up higher.”

Those units are in partnership with the county.

With the state legislature wrapping up their session recently, funding for Monroe County looks good.

Griffith said, “We achieved a lot of our legislative initiatives. Some of the issues that are very minimal in nature, but yet maximum noise, if you will, are the book banning topics, and what did change is a single person in your district, a single person could object to a book in the media center and have that book taken out for review. So but that political bombs are going off all over the state and here in Monroe County, we’ve even had people from the Mom’s For Liberty that scrutinize the curriculum and these books. They told us we were not doing anything wrong. I said would you say that again, please.”

There is room for improvement in test scores, though.

Griffiths said, “It’s very obvious we have some work to do in certain areas. This is the first year that we’ve had the FAST, the Florida Assessment of Student Thinking. So it’s a different kind of test than we’ve had in the past. It actually shows that a student can think through these problems. The challenge we have here is we have an explosion of students that English is not their first language. They don’t have command of the English language and when they come to us, they have to sit down and take this test right out of the gate. So that’s really quite challenging, and some people say it’s quite unfair, that at least we have to have these non-English speakers with us for a couple of years before their test scores should count. But it is what it is and we need to know where those students are at so we can help them progress. It’s very valuable information. Eventually the state will decide what kind of cutoff score in order to calculate school grades. We won’t know that until the end of the fall, so that’s really when the school board will sit down and tackle these outcomes. Right now it’s very preliminary. We have more questions than answers right now.”

There are still openings going into the school year.

Griffiths said, “We’ve had positions we cannot fill and of course, when you have students that have a permanent sub for a teacher that’s not an ideal situation or revolving teachers or whatever it takes to cover a class that is not a good situation. I would argue that you could probably look at our outcomes on this first blush result and attribute that to, especially if you go down to a grade level in a particular school, that’s how you can drill down with this information. Try to figure out where did we come up short and is it some of these situations where there’s not a permanent teacher in the class with those students the entire year?”

There are new hires for principals – in fact the three high school principals are alumni of those schools.

Griffiths said, “It’s very exciting. We have a lot of new blood and with new blood comes new ideas and new energy and new leadership styles. This is the most new blood in a year or two that I’ve ever witnessed. It’s an alumni in each high school. I don’t think that’s ever been the case before. First time in my history, where we’ve had an alumni at the helm of each high school in the Keys.”