It’s just a few weeks before kids go back to school

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.

There are just a few weeks before school starts again, but things are still hopping in the district with budget talks.

July 1 begins the fiscal year for the district.

Griffiths said, “It’s a very strange situation, because the Truth in Millage laws for all governments, are all intertwined. And that doesn’t work for school districts. Because if you look at our first budget hearing, just like the county commission, would occur in August. Then somewhere between August and early September, you might review the budget for the public. But you’re only required to do two hearings, the first budget hearing and the final budget hearing. The final budget hearing for us is September 5.”

With all the other government bodies, the fiscal year begins October 1.

Griffiths said, “That means when we approve the final budget at our final budget hearing in September, we are already into our fiscal year by two months and we’ve already hired all of our people. So there’s nothing we could do when our final budget hearing starts to change that. That’s when the public is invited to come out. But in truth for us, our budget formation starts in the beginning of the year, when we start hiring people and looking. So it’s very difficult for us because we don’t even get the property rolls certified until probably late May. So we’re here we are in June, looking at what our actual income might be to start a fiscal year July 1. So school districts are in a terrible, terrible position when it comes to fiscal planning based on the law. I don’t know how you change it because if you read the laws, we’re so intertwined with the government bodies, that I don’t know that it will ever change. I’m just trying to make the people in the public understand that if you come to a final budget hearing before the school board, we can’t cut enough toilet paper at that point to make a difference in the budget.”

Teachers saw raises this past school year, which was a positive thing.

Griffiths said, “It’s easy to get a contract when you have money and we have quite a bit of money. Because of the value of our property, we’re looking at now going from $55 billion in value for Monroe County to $66 billion, which is historic. I can tell you before the economic meltdown of 2007, Monroe County was worth $29 billion, then it crashed in the Great Recession to $19 billion. That was a horrible time. So go back just a few years when Monroe County was worth $19 billion and all the government budgets were based on $19 billion in value after the crash. Now we’re going to be looking like $66 billion. It’s just It boggles my mind.”

There has been a bit of a setback with the Trumbo property for workforce housing — the developers have pulled out.

Griffiths said, “It’s not starting from scratch, we did do a lot of preliminary work, especially the environmental studies. That’s a big hurdle to get past and so we have done all that work. We even have architectural drawings, I don’t know if they’re going to be of any value because now even if we follow the city code, as far as height restrictions, the height has been changed because the flood maps have changed. We believe we can go three stories over parking, and perhaps more than double, perhaps triple the number of units that were originally planned for Trumbo, so this might actually be a blessing in disguise. For us to go back and say, well wait a minute, now we could maximize the use of that property, or perhaps sell off part of the most valuable part of that property to finance, getting our downtown people out of there and to another historic building, and build on the remainder. It provides us a lot more options. So I’m very optimistic. I know, this is a setback, we were excited, perhaps put shovels in the ground by the end of the year. We do need housing terribly, terribly bad. But again, this may be a blessing that we’ll just be able to go up higher and build more units and put it over parking and look for a new developer.”

There’s another opportunity for affordable housing in conjunction with the county in the Upper Keys.

Griffiths said, “It’s a significant number, below 20, with the county, we may be able to make payments of $1.1 million for five years. That would be for county employees and our employees in the Upper Keys. We’re doing a big project in Key West. It’s wonderful when these projects are situated where the people live, so you get commuters off the road because people are actually living in the community where they work, which makes a lot more sense than building these things 20, 30 miles from where the people work, and just putting more cars on the road. That doesn’t help anybody.”

Three new principals have been hired – all are alumni of the schools they will run.

Griffiths said, “We have to meet by a certain timeline before our first budget hearing. So first, we have to meet to advertise the budget, then within so many days of that advertisement, you have to have your first budget hearing. We actually have a third opportunity for the public to hear about our budget, because we have those three areas are the Keys, not just two. We give the public three bites at the apple, if you will, but I have to caution that if you’ve come to the school board meeting at the final budget hearing, we’re already two months into our fiscal year and nothing’s going to change.”

A back to school sales tax holiday in Florida, will occur July 24 through August 6. Students will return to school on August 10.