Donor gives $500K to help Keys teachers, staff recover from Irma

An anonymous, out-of-state donor this month gave $500,000 to the Monroe County Education Foundation to help Keys teachers and staff recover and rebuild after Hurricane Irma, which struck Sept. 10.

The foundation, which so far has raised $640,000, is private and none of the money will be held by the School District.

“He or they gave us $250,000 and was so happy with what we had done with it they decided to give us another 250,” said Bryan Green, the foundation’s president.

All staff, from bus drivers and administrative support staff to teachers and counselors, were invited to apply for funding. Before Christmas, the foundation gave out 50 $5,000 checks after receiving 200 applications. The next round of checks will go out in January.

The foundation expected maybe 70 or 80 applications, which were weighed case-by-case with a focus on lower-income staff members, Green said.

“It’s an evaluation of each applicant,” Green said. “It’s a heart-wrenching exercise, sitting down reading 200 stories of people who just had their lives turned upside-down.”

While Key West and all the Keys school buildings were left unscathed by Irma, the Lower and Middle Keys were the hardest-hit, with some people still living in tents on Big Pine Key post-storm.

The foundation’s leaders were worried teachers would leave the Keys in droves.

Of about 850 people employed by the School District, about 20 percent were estimated to have been adversely affected by Irma’s wrath.

“Some seriously to the point they lost their entire homes,” Green said. “We were seeing evidence of a lot of teachers and key personnel leaving Monroe which created all sorts of problems for the education of children in Monroe County.

The foundation began raising money for both students and staff earlier this year with an $80,000 donation from the Edward B. and Joan T. Knight Foundation.

Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen