The 2022 Monroe County School Board. From left: board member John Dick, vice chair Sue Woltanski, board member Darren Horan, board chair Andy Griffiths, board member Mindy Conn. MONROE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT/Contributed

The Monroe County School Board welcomed one new face and two familiar ones as newly-elected District 1 board member Darren Horan and re-elected District 4 and 5 board members John Dick and Dr. Sue Woltanski were sworn in at the board’s annual organizational meeting on Nov. 22.

Horan, a Key West-based attorney, secured a victory over Gabrielle Brown with 58% of the vote in August’s primary election. Woltanski will enter her second term on the board after earning a win with just shy of 54% of the vote in a hotly-contested campaign against Alexandria Suarez. Unopposed in August’s primary, former chair Dick will enter his fifth term with the board.

Andy Griffiths will serve as the board’s new chair, with Woltanski chosen as vice chair.

The evening’s largest agenda item revolved around proposed divisions of units and rental rates for the upcoming housing development at the district’s Trumbo Road property in Key West, slated for construction through SPGL LLC. Designated as affordable housing, an initial draft from SPGL proposed to rent 25% of the development’s units at rental rates calculated from 80% of the area median income (AMI), 45% at rates calculated from 100% AMI, and 30% calculated from 120% of AMI.

In the 80% AMI category, a one-bedroom unit would rent for roughly $1,350 per month, with two-bedroom units at $1,500 for households earning a maximum of $57,400 for a single family or $65,600 for a two-person family. 100% AMI units would rent for $1,700 and $1,900 for one- and two-bedroom units, with income limits of $71,500 and $82,000 for one- and two-person families. One- and two-bedroom 120% AMI units would rent for $2,000 and $2,300, respectively, with income limits of $86,000 and $98,000 for one- and two-person families.

Board member Mindy Conn said she was concerned that while the proposed rates may be suitable for some teachers, other critical district personnel would still find the units unaffordable.

“I would like to see rent reflect housing that we can have bus drivers and maintenance workers and paraprofessionals live in, not just teachers,” she said. “Some of those rents might still be too high for brand-new teachers … or filling those other positions that are hourly pay.”

Superintendent Theresa Axford defended the proposed rents, saying the units were “better than anything anybody can get right now” in Key West.

“I understand how amazing they are,” Conn continued. “But if people can’t afford them, it doesn’t matter. I want to figure out … which people would still be able to afford to live there, and if we’re missing some section of our employees that still can’t afford to live there, even at those great Key West rates.”

With no official vote taken, the board asked attorney Gaelan Jones to work with SPGL on several proposals for several splits in unit sizes and rental rates in the upcoming complex. As currently proposed, the development’s 80 units would consist of 16 one-bedroom units, 40 two-bedroom units and 24 three-bedroom units. 

“I think everybody, myself included, that are involved in these negotiations believe that the three-bedrooms are going to be the hardest to fill,” he said.

Jones also cautioned that addition of more 80% AMI units would likely be met with a compensatory addition of 120% units to recoup the lost rental income, decreasing the pool of 100% AMI units.

The board will work to potentially approve a final agreement at its Dec. 13, with Axford and Jones offering to bring an analysis of district salaries to the meeting to inform the final decision.

Alex Rickert made the perfectly natural career progression from dolphin trainer to newspaper editor in 2021 after freelancing for Keys Weekly while working full time at Dolphin Research Center. A resident of Marathon since 2015, he fell in love with the Florida Keys community by helping multiple organizations and friends rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Irma. An avid runner, actor, and spearfisherman, he spends as much of his time outside of work on or under the sea having civil disagreements with sharks.