The Florida School Boards Association has billed the Monroe County School Board $6,600 for 10 days' work on the superintendent search -- including two days' travel expenses. Had the board hired the agency's head, Wayne Blanton, for the entire monthlong search, the bill would have been capped at $8,000.
The nonprofit association, to which the School Board hasn't belonged since 2009, also has offered membership to Monroe County for $15,000. But three of the five local board members said Friday they would vote against joining.
The board is set to meet at 10 a.m. Monday in Key West at the administration building, 241 Trumbo Road.
The single-page bill, dated June 20, isn't itemized, and board members said that's all they've seen.
The invoice has a four-line abbreviated description of services rendered: "Superintendent search; recruitment of candidates; PH calls, review of resumes, discussion with citizens committee, assist with ad placement, 10 days @ $500 each. Travel cost -- 2 days plus mileage."
Let the sticker shock begin.
"They are really hitting us with a big bill for the superintendent search," said Chairman John Dick, who was never a fan of the agency. "I'm not happy. I would suspect we're stuck with it. That's good enough reason to show we really shouldn't belong to this organization."
Dick said the board could spend $15,000 on school supplies instead.
But Vice Chairman Andy Griffiths, a 20-year incumbent up for re-election this year, has argued to his colleagues that the nonprofit provides training, legal services, guidance and consultation.
He also pointed out that of Florida's 67 school districts, only Monroe and Nassau don't belong.
Griffiths brought in Blanton to get the superintendent search off the ground.
On the campaign trail Thursday, Griffiths said the district wouldn't have an incoming superintendent if he hadn't taken the lead.
At least one board member has some questions about the invoice, saying he has yet to see any receipts.
"We've got to talk about it," said Ron Martin, who represents the Upper Keys. "I was going to bring it up for discussion."
Monroe's a la carte plan cost $5,000.
Blanton racked up $1,605.20 for two days' travel from Tallahassee to the remote Florida Keys, according to the invoice.
"Show me the 10 days," said Robin Smith-Martin, who represents Key West.
The travel expenses sound about right, though, he said: "I can believe that."
Blanton visited the Keys in February for a board meeting and again in April, when he met with the board-appointed citizen search committee, which reviewed the original batch of 56 applicants and delivered to the board a shortlist of five finalists, including appointed, and now outgoing, Superintendent Jesus Jara.
The board selected Mark Porter of Minnesota by a 4-1 vote on June 28.
Blanton did not return a phone message left at his office, nor an email.
But in April, before the board cut him loose, Blanton said the agency makes no profit from the superintendent searches and that the School Board didn't owe dues in exchange for his help.
"They are under no obligation to join," he said then.
With little comment, the board in late April voted 4-0 to fire Blanton, deciding it had only needed him to kick-start the search.
Blanton by then had billed the district about $1,800, having promised not to charge more than the blanket fee of $8,000.
He has 37 years in the education field and 76 superintendent searches on his resume. The agency charges $500 a day plus travel expenses, such as mileage and hotel rooms, but caps its total bill at $8,000 for overseeing school district superintendent searches.
However, the agency typically only works for school districts that are dues-paying members. Blanton appeared to have made an exception for Monroe County after Griffiths reached out to him for help launching the national search for the Keys first hired schools chief.
Charlotte County recently paid $4,500 for a complete search, while Palm Beach County was billed $7,400, Blanton told the board in February.
In July 2009, Dick led a 3-2 vote to quit the school boards association and the state superintendent's association in order to save about $26,000 in annual dues.
"I didn't think it was worthwhile," said Dick of the association. "I didn't think they did anything."