School’s out for summer!

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

While the school year has just wrapped up, a number of people successfully graduated and a lot of scholarships were handed out to Monroe County students.

Griffiths said, “It makes me wonder how the community can continue to be so generous when I ponder that only 17 percent of the homes in Key West, Florida, are homesteaded, which means the great majority of our people who live here, pay rent. In the county it’s about 20-some percent. It just, it boggles my mind when I think about how much our community has changed in just the last decade.”

The local community continues its generosity for the graduates of the school district.

Griffiths said, “The lion’s share of these scholarships are from the military academies, the Florida Bright Future scholarships and the Take Stock scholarships. The local community is significant, but it’s not the overwhelming majority.”

Charter schools have also become more prevalent.

Griffiths said, “I’m very grateful to our finance folks because we sat down and had a workshop with all of our charter schools. They’re all so different. The one thing that’s sure, the charter schools are public schools and they are part of the Florida Education Finance Program.”

Charter schools are funded per student, just like public schools are.

Griffiths reminded, “So when we pass that half mil, that property tax for people, it raises about $21 million or about $2,300 per student or about $12,000 per employee. It’s the same for the conventional schools, it’s the same for the charter schools. One thing I’m really proud that our finance people did is that the law just passed with the legislature that we have to share the capital millage now with our charter schools and we would have to implement that over the next five years, but what our intentions are is to do that sharing for the capital millage in the first year. That’s a really big step for us. Instead of phasing it in over five years, to do it immediately in one. I was really excited that our finance people brought that to the table.”

Griffiths has been a board member since 1992. Affordable housing has always been an issue for the district.

He said, “What’s challenging is we have a lot of old historic buildings and people think oh, wouldn’t that be a great place to have apartments and that kind of thing, but the truth is it’s extraordinarily expensive to renovate and restore these historic buildings. You’re way better off with a vacant lot, but because we don’t have a lot of those. We have these old buildings and again to preserve that history and be aware of that history when you reconstruct these old buildings, it is very expensive. So we’re looking for some state help and we got a little state help, but we’ll be looking for more as we continue to try to renovate some of these older buildings.”

It’s also important to attract teachers to Monroe County School District.

Griffiths said, “You don’t know until we start school because a lot of people sign a contract and they come down here and start looking for a place to live and that’s where things change rapidly. If they can’t find a place to live, can’t find a roommate, can’t find acceptable housing, they might break that contract. We see that happen a lot. Hopefully this year will be a little better. Looking at it right now, it’s not as bad as last year or the year before, but we won’t know for sure until we start school and they’ve found a place to live.”

There are a lot of new positions in the administrative staff.

Griffiths said, “For the first time I can ever remember, we have three alumni principals. We have an alumni principal in every, single high school. That is really amazing. I’m really proud of that and that speaks a lot to our culture here.”

The district is focusing on property at Trumbo to house staff.

Griffiths said, “If we can house 150 staff members or more at that property, that could be a quarter of our teaching workforce and if they have a place that’s affordable to live, that right there is a raise in itself.”