Back to school went very well in Monroe County School District

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

Senator Ana Maria Rodriguez and Representative Jim Mooney delivered on a promise of funding for Monroe County Schools.

Griffiths said, “Yes, $2 million. We put our money where the kids are and what the kids do, and we support new schools and those ancillary facilities for our students. So while our downtown administration sits in 60 year old military barracks, it’s time to see if we can do something to renovate some of these valuable historical buildings. Unfortunately, that is very, very expensive. It’s cheaper if you could knock them down and build new, but that’s not what we want to do. We want to preserve these historic structures. They’ve withstood many, many hurricanes and very, very strong stone structures, and this is one of them. If we could get $20 million, that we wouldn’t have to take out of our budget for student direct benefit, then we could start to restore these type of old buildings. If we could get into there and do that, we could move our administrative offices, from Trumbo. We have about 50 people down there. If we can get out of Trumbo, then that property, of course is available for construction of affordable housing. So we’re trying to get out of Trumbo. This is an answer to renovate a historic building without impacting our local budget. We wanted $20 million, we got two. Okay, that’s a good start. Once you get an appropriation, the next one isn’t as difficult. Maybe we’ll get a little more. In time, we would like to restore that significant structure there on United Street. We should try to find ways if there’s federal money, matching dollars, whatever money is out there for preserving these historical structures, we need to be on that.”

With the $2 million, there are certain things that can be started.

Griffiths said, “There’s always the preliminary work that you have to do for construction, you have to draw up plans, architectural plans, and there’s a whole host of things that have to happen before the first project is underway, but $2 million could do some of that. It’s on our five year plan to restore that building and hopefully, we will be successful in raising that money in the next few years.”

Congressman Carlos Gimenez visited with the Monroe County School District recently to talk about affordable housing.

Griffiths said, “What the superintendent wanted to show him first of all, is the Trumbo parcel which is over five acres. But within the five acres, there’s just under an acre there that was owned by the Department of Education, and they wanted like $1.8 million to turn that over to us. If we just wait it out for another two or three years, it’s going to revert to us for free, but the property could be valuable to a developer to use it for staging or incorporate that into what that project is going to look like. They’re already breaking ground down there. The sheriff is getting 20 units down there what used to be the dog park. So we’re moving forward, and she wanted to show the congressman, could we get the Department of Education to reduce this 1.8 million? Well, they got it down to $250,000. We’re looking for zero, but it’s going in the right direction. We brought the people that can make these big decisions, aware of this problem and it was great that the Congressman actually came down and saw it with his own eyes and say, yeah, look, this is ridiculous, having money go out of one pocket of government into another doesn’t really do the taxpayers very much good. So let’s get them to get off of this wanting $250,000 for us at this property earlier, as opposed to just waiting and getting it for free later.”

The district is 11 days into the new school year and thus far, everything is positive.

Griffiths said, “Board members will get calls because people know us. If they didn’t think something went well, particularly with a busing issue, or something to do with the scheduling of the school, air conditioners that don’t work, those types of things. We’ll know about it, we’ll hear about it. So this has been one of the smoothest openings in at least the last three years that I can remember. That just tells me with an anecdotal, how much is the phone ringing? How we’re doing? I think we’re doing very well. We did approve the superintendent’s evaluation at our last meeting, it was pretty good. I’m really happy. I’m very pleased that she’s very involved with the politics outside of Monroe County, because that’s really, really important. We can only do so much here, but the example of the $2 million is what you can do when you get off the rock and get up there to where the decisions really are being made, which is 600 miles away, and having your phone with these contacts and these people like the Congressman, like our state Senator, like our state Representative, they need to know what’s going on, including their colleagues who don’t represent us but who, like the president of the Senate in the Florida Senate this year, her pet project is all about affordable housing. So we want to seize upon that, and really have those relationships cemented and let them know what’s going on in very unique Monroe County.”

The budgeting process is also continuing.

Griffiths said, “We’re only required to do two public hearings on the budget that because of our geography, with the Upper Keys, Middle Keys, Lower Keys, we go ahead and give the public three opportunities. We just had a budget presentation workshop and Marathon Tuesday evening. Of course, the board will see this budget, many, many times, but actually, we will publicly talk about the budget four times. The first time, that’s when we have to get together and advertise the proposed budget. After that, within 10 days, you have to have your first hearing once those advertisements go out in the newspaper. Then so many days later, you have the second opportunity for the public to see a budget presentation. The final public hearing will be September 5ht. I always remind people, it doesn’t make any sense for our schedule, because our fiscal year already started in July 1. So a final hearing in September makes no sense at all. Unfortunately, we have to follow the Truth in Millage laws. So we’re embedded in the law along with the cities and counties, which makes sense for them to have a final budget hearing. The county has theirs on September 6, a day after us, but they will start the fiscal year in October. So for them, it makes sense, for us is doesn’t. If you want to talk about our budget, we got to be having these discussions in January and February.”

There are still some openings for staff in the district.

Griffiths said, “We still have about 22 openings. We were doing pretty well with our Grow Your Own, getting people that are currently with us to get their teaching degree and now you can get a special ed degree right here at Florida Keys College. So that’s available to local folks. So if somebody’s looking to start a second career or change career, the salaries are pretty good. I know it costs a lot to live here, but the salaries are pretty good. You can add on to that salary with other additional duties. We need people.”