For the Monroe County School District, 2016 ended on a high note financially with a clean audit from the state for a change and expecting $105 million from its share of the state sales tax.
And Superintendent Mark Porter, who had been job-hunting in Sarasota and St. Johns counties, said he wants to stay in the Florida Keys after all and was later offered a new contract with a $15,000 raise to the $150,000 salary he started with in 2012.
Not bad for a district that started the year with a day-care scandal at Horace O’Bryant School, where more than $21,000 in cash went missing during the 2014-15 school year. State prosecutors didn’t charge anyone but pointed fingers at the director who was fired. Then-board Chairman Andy Griffiths called for the hiring of an outside forensic investigator but his colleagues said Porter could handle the probe.
HOB Principal Mike Henriquez was later removed for poor performance by SuPorter, who gave him an administrative job as alternative education coordinator, a job that includes addressing truancy. Porter eventually handed down five-day unpaid suspensions to himself, Henriquez, Finance Director Jim Drake and HOB bookkeeper Patricia Barber for their combined administrative blunders.
Meanwhile, Porter’s contract remained unsigned at year’s end as board members are split on whether to add that a super majority of four votes is needed to remove the schools chief rather than a simple majority of three. The swing vote is recently elected Mindy Conn, who hasn’t yet said where she stands.
The School Board will spend most of its sales tax money on three building projects: A new Gerald Adams Elementary on Stock Island and a new Plantation Key School in Tavernier — both estimated to cost at least $32 million — and a new section on Stanley Switlik Elementary in Marathon.
One property the board washed its hands of was the 1920s-era Glynn Archer School, 1300 White St., which the city transformed into the newly opened City Hall. The board handed over the rest of the property this year but has two offices reserved for Porter and an administrative assistant. The metal tiger statue, a longtime school mascot, will return to the front of the building, city leaders ruled.
The board couldn’t decide in 2016 the longstanding issues of what to do with its Marathon Manor property or its waterfront property at Trumbo Road, where the district parks school buses and still has its main offices.
Politically, the board lost one member and welcomed the first woman to serve on the panel since 2010.
In the Aug. 30 primary, Conn, a New York attorney turned Sugarloaf Key mom, ousted Ed Davidson from the District 3 seat he won in 2012 by an 18-point margin. It was Conn’s first bid for public office.
Davidson, who called himself the watchdog candidate and publicly questioned Porter’s integrity more than once, said his defeat was due to snowbirds not voting because they’re “up North spoiling their grandchildren” and that it wasn’t a repudiation of his single term tenure.
The state gave the district a B grade this year after Monroe County had been A-rated in 2015. Porter said the grades are just one measurement of the work the district does. Statewide, 31 percent of schools dropped at least one letter grade while only 12 percent improved their standing.
New hires in 2016 included Larry Schmiegel, a principal at a public elementary in Oswego, N.Y., who was chosen to be principal at Poinciana Elementary, earning $105,200 a year. He comes with 11 years of experience, an MBA and a doctorate, Porter said.
The board didn’t sign off on filling one newly created job. Porter pushed for a public relations person while then-member Davidson said maybe a stay-at-home mom would want the job.
Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen