Monroe County school officials say they are undecided about whether to seek the annual grade assigned to the district by the state, until they see what other districts plan to do. The grade affects staff bonuses and state funding.

At the April 13 meeting, the school board also heard that the long-awaited renovation of the Tommy Roberts Memorial Stadium is a year away.

Under an April 9 emergency order, state Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran told school districts that the state is waiving some course requirements due to the pandemic: High school seniors in Florida will be able to graduate this year and third graders can move on without passing the normally required state assessments. 

The order also gives districts the choice to keep the pre-pandemic school grades, on which staff bonuses and state funding are based, unless the district wants to apply to the state for new grades.

The state order is intended to address a wide range of pandemic-related setbacks students have faced over the past school year.

In March, Monroe County announced there will be no midterms and no final exams for high school seniors this year.

At the meeting, board chair John Dick asked Superintendent Theresa Axford, “What about the school grades? What do you think you’re going to do with that?” 

“I’m going to listen to other superintendents from around the state,” Axford told the board. “We’re going to get our score reports on our school grades and then we have 30 days to decide whether we want to opt in and get a school grade or not. So I want to hear what other superintendents are doing and look at what our performance is. I just know that there’s been nothing consistent this year. … We need to look at that very carefully. I would not like to lose our A-rated district status because we plunged in and decided to opt in for a grade when all other districts in Florida don’t do it.”

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Patrick Lefere, the executive director of operations and planning for the school district, made a presentation about the Tommy Roberts Memorial Stadium renovation, a project that has been long in the works. The proposed schedule: bids to be opened May 6, interviews May 13, recommendation to award June 1, board meeting June 22 … and construction to commence in spring 2022. 

Regarding the construction start date, District 1 board member Bobby Highsmith said, “It seems like a long time to wait.”

Lefere replied, “We wanted to get baseball season down and then roll in.”

“I don’t understand why we are not starting in the fall?” asked District 3 board member Mindy Conn.

“We need time to get through the design process,” said Lefere. He also explained the scope of the work: a new football/baseball field with artificial turf; bleachers with new concrete pads and additional seats; an athletic building with new bathrooms, weight rooms, athletic equipment storage; two concessions; new entrances; environmental remediation; and stormwater management. 

The soil remediation of the field is required by the EPA. The field was built near a dump, and contaminants could be exposed during the remediation. The public will be informed at that point.

In other news:

— The board passed the Monroe County School Operational Audit for School Year Ending June 30, 2020, overseen by the state. 

“This is not a bad audit,” board chair John Dick told Keys Weekly before the meeting.

 Among the findings: District controls over safe-school officer services and related payments could be enhanced; district schools did not always conduct required emergency drills; contrary to State Board of Education rules, the district did not always provide for required mental health awareness personnel training and student instruction. 

— The board also approved a description of a new job, the safety and security director, who will ensure the safety and security of district students and staff, as well as plan and implement drills.

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