School Board: Full speed ahead

Workshop discusses testing, budget

School board meeting
Parent Sue Woltanski addresses the board during public comments. LYNSEY SAUNDERS/Monroe County School District

The Monroe County School Board met on Tuesday at Coral Shores High School to discuss the testing calendar for students and take the first glimpse into next year’s budget.

Testing calendar for students:

Monroe County School District and Executive Director of Assessment and Accountability David Murphy asked for an extension to the testing calendars from the state due to lost instructional time due to Hurricane Irma. Most tests were extended by a week across Florida, but Monroe County was offered opportunities to push writing, reading, and science additional weeks. That issue is that if testing is done late, then the school’s “state grade” will come back late and the testing will coincide with high school AP testing.

“When we talked about this initially with principals there was hesitancy because of the late reports, but after the principals talked to their leadership teams, all agreed that they would like to test as late as possible,” said Murphy. “The principals will have the flexibility to do what they think is best for the students.”

Board member Ron Martin agreed. “We are honoring what the building leaders wanted; they are the guys and girls in the trenches,” he said.

Superintendent Mark Porter added that responses to modify the testing schedule usually go unrecognized. “Perhaps there is some empathy for our students and teachers this year,” he said.

Board member Andy Griffiths said the board should send a thank you letter to the state for the leniency.

First glimpse of the financials for 2018

Three different prognostications were presented to the board by Executive Director of Finance and Performance James Drake. In all, the district needs to add somewhere between $1.8 million to $2.9 million to the budget. “The state keeps reducing its support for the district,” said Drake.

“We need something a little better than the past couple years,” said Porter. The value goes up a little every year since 2012, but the value will be back where it was in 2006 for the 2018-2019 budget. Just because the value goes up doesn’t mean that the district would end up with more money because the state can roll back the local required effort or LRE.

Since the request was prepared Aug. 3 before Hurricane Irma, Drake said the data doesn’t mean a whole lot right now. The new assessment will be made Jan. 23. “We don’t have a good idea of the effect of Irma on school taxable values,” he said. “But, after Wilma, our taxable values skyrocketed.”

The property appraiser will give a certified estimate on July 1; last year’s was $27.5 billion and the new estimate is expected to be $29.4 billion. “Wow, it took 12 years, but we are back where we were before,” said Griffiths, referencing the fall of property values after the recession.

(Side note: The anticipated estimate rises even in the wake of a hurricane because in the case of lost mobile homes, because the assessment is more on the value of the land; and in the case of other damaged homes, improvements will be made, making them also worth more.)

Staff at Florida Department of Education expect that Miami-Dade, Broward and Hillsborough are significantly under their enrollment estimates, meaning a lot of the state dollars will go to the under-enrolled counties. Orange and Osceola counties’ enrollments are up. Eventually the averages will self-correct.

“In our county, most of the value is in land,” said Drake, adding that about 60 percent of the homes are not homesteaded in Monroe County. Therefore, the brunt of the money comes from investment homes, second homes, and commercial property.

“This is where being a 90 percent county helps us, that’s why we generate more funding than similarly sized districts,” said Drake.

Monroe County is almost always the highest funded on a per-student basis in Florida, mainly because of the cost of living. “Some counties are not very rich,” said John Dick. “We are a 90-percent county, which means we are a rich county from our tax base and a lot of our local money goes into our schools.”

The district’s school board budget meetings will begin March 5.


“Students are the product. That’s the main goal to make sure we can give teachers what they need to produce the best product.” — John Dick, school board member

Awards and recognitions:

  • Coral Shores: Trish Biondoletti was recognized for her creation and management of the Coral Shores Food pantry. Also, Kathleen O’Connor, National Honor Society Sponsor, Beth Rosenow, the activities director, Nancy Truesdale, Key Club Sponsor, and Carmen Kelley, Interact Sponsor, along with student officers Kendra Powers, Rebecca Galvin, Halley Lane, Paige Joyce, and Nicole Dotschay were recognized for their contribution to Toys for Tots and hurricane relief.
  • Plantation Key School: Student Council members Sullivan McDonough, Diana Diaz, Jaffett Gallardo, Kristina Alvarez, and Mariana Yanez were recognized for their successful holiday food drive. Gage Cooper, Madelyn Langley, Makena Woolet-Stockton were also recognized for successfully completing the PSATs above the 96-percentile.
  • Key Largo School: Science Teacher Pam Caputo was recognized for her coordination and assistance with Hurricane Irma relief efforts in the Upper Keys and students Jameson Alvarez, Adrian Pais, and Oceana Gross for completing the PSATs above the 96-percentile.


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