Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Friday, February 15, 2013
School hotline may go away

In the ongoing debate over the School District's whistle-blower hotline, the hotline itself may become the latest casualty.

At Tuesday's School Board workshop, taking place in Marathon on the same day as the district's Audit and Finance Committee meeting, board member Ed Davidson put forward the notion that the validity of the hotline was so damaged as to be beyond repair, and that scrapping it has become the best option.

"The bungling of it has totally destroyed what little credibility there was," Davidson said Thursday. "From the start, many people did not trust the promise of anonymity and confidentiality of the hotline, as evidenced by the fact that we should have had hundreds, or maybe even thousands of calls to it. People don't trust it."

The hotline, run by EthicsPoint Inc. of Oregon, was set up in the wake of the Monique Acevedo financial scandal to provide district employee whistle-blowers with an outlet for their concerns. Despite good intentions, however, the line has been beset with difficulties, including recent allegations that overseer Ken Gentile, director of finance and performance, allowed his intern assistant Amy Reno unfettered access to the online reports generated by the hotline, including those which involved Gentile himself.

The hotline has thus been a complete failure, according to Davidson.

"The real hotline is your newspaper, the Key West Citizen," Davidson said. "That's what people seem to be using, and that's what I said at the meeting. Right now, this thing has cost us many thousands of dollars, $5,000 per year, plus the handling on our end, plus the lawyers. Call your board members and tell them to vote to shut it down. Expect to see a vote on that option on the agenda at the next meeting."

Board Chairman Andy Griffiths, who is frequently at loggerheads with Davidson over board policies, said he agreed with his colleague on this issue.

"I would definitely be on that side of the question," Griffiths said. "Who can trust [the hotline] after this latest fiasco?"

As an alternative to the line, Griffiths suggested that "credible people coming forward to lodge complaints" would be better.

Schools Superintendent Mark Porter, too, agreed that it's time for the hotline to go.

"I would concur with [Davidson and Griffiths]," Porter said. "It was hastily implemented and somewhat poorly deployed, and at this point it utterly lacks credibility. I would hope that there are multiple avenues for people wishing to submit concerns, and many points of contact where people can come forward. I've personally had anonymous conversations with such people, so at this point, I don't know if the hotline is a good way for us to be spending money."

HOB parking lot

Also, at both the Audit and Finance meeting and the board workshop, the festering issue of the expansion of the planned parking lot at Horace O'Bryant Middle School was mulled, this time with a new twist: A spokesman for Coastal Construction, the contractor in charge of the project, estimated that at this point, the cost of expanding the lot is likely to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $600,000 to 700,000, about double the number bandied about previously. Coastal isn't contracted for that part of the HOB project, and probably couldn't make it happen while still meeting its June deadline for completing the rest of the school, the spokesman added.

This remark, and the estimate itself, brought a rebuke from Porter.

"That's very disturbing," he said Thursday. "I'd be somewhat surprised if Coastal walked away from the project before we can get a occupancy permit. I'm expecting that they'll stay with us until the completion. We're going to have to sit around a table and really sharpen some pencils on that one. There may be some interim measures we can use to allow the completion of the project.

"Priority No. 1 is that we have our students in the building in time for the start of the 2013-14 school year."


More Florida Keys Headlines
Available Only in the Electronic Edition