Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
School Board disconnects complaint hotline

The Monroe County School Board on Tuesday voted to kill off the controversy-prone EthicsPoint hotline, and to approve the windstorm insurance package proposed by Arthur J. Gallagher Risk Management Services.

The vote by the board, which met in Tavernier, was 4-1 on the hotline, with only District 4 member John Dick voting against Schools Superintendent Mark Porter's proposal to give the EthicsPoint, the company that runs the hotline, the required 30 days notice to phase out the program.

On the windstorm issue, the vote was the same, with Dick again being the sole dissenting vote. Fellow board member Ed Davidson, who represents District 3, voted "yes," to the windstorm deal with "great disdain."

The first vote on the insurance question actually failed, with Davidson, Dick and District 5 member Ron Martin opposed. However, when reminded after the first vote that the district's insurance was set to expire in three days, a new tally was called, and both Davidson and Martin switched sides.

During debate on the hotline, School Board Chairman Andy Griffiths called it "evil," citing the spurious nature of many complaints reported to it under the cover of anonymity.

Davidson stated that "very clearly, [the hotline] hasn't worked," and that "the public did not trust in the confidentiality" of the line. He suggested other ways for whistle-blowers to relay concerns about district issues, including reporting them to himself.

Dick countered that he felt it was "too early to get rid of it," and asked for more time to make it work, but he was overruled. District 1 member Robin Smith-Martin said he voted with the majority "only because our media in the Florida Keys isn't responsible."

Another item which generated spirited debate by the board was the recent report by the Florida Auditor General, which pointed out 18 instances of financial mismanagement by the district.

"We do see some improvement over time ... but there are still too many findings," Porter said, adding that efforts are being made to resolve some of the issues raised by the AG, such as more efficient preparation of meeting minutes.

Davidson asked if the board couldn't outsource some of the financial tasks. He said, however, that former board member Steve Pribramsky had recently told him he wouldn't touch the district's finances with a 10-foot pole. "That's pretty damning, coming from a former member of this board," Davidson said. The problems are "endemic in the system ... . Semi-competency is acceptable on the public payroll in Monroe County."

Griffiths called for a "cooling-off period," following the brouhaha generated by the report's release.

"I know everybody's upset about this," he said.

"Heads should roll," Dick countered. "It's the same people producing the same stuff over the years. You can't shuffle the deck. You need to clean house. Nobody has ever been held responsible. How can you go forward with long-term planning [until the situation is fixed]?" he inquired of Porter.

The continuing financial problems with the district's Adult Education department, which was the center of the biggest scandal to rock the district in recent years, was of particular concern to several members.

Director of Finance and Performance Ken Gentile, who was the target of much of the board members' ire, expressed his own frustration with both the report and its aftermath.

"I don't think it's acceptable to have 18 findings in a report," he said. "But we need to have a balanced approach," and not be looking to "hang somebody." He added that the board needs to find out who was responsible for the findings, and "take it from there."

Gentile said he would be having a detailed discussion about each and every item with the Audit and Finance Committee next week.

"These are the things we are correcting," Gentile said. "But we should also celebrate these small victories, citing the fact that in this year's audit there was only one 'significant' deficiency, and improvement on audits past.

"Call it what you will, but it's progress," he said. "Now it's on me, and if we can't fix our financial reporting, then I don't need to be here."

Eventually, the board agreed to allow the district's Audit and Finance Committee to look into the report before taking it up again at the next board meeting, in March.

Another discussion among the board members took place regarding the financial issues facing certain district charter schools, including Key West Collegiate Academy, and the Ocean Studies school in Tavernier.

It was agreed to examine their reports further before approving them.

The board also voted to approve a third-party administrator agreement with Gallagher Bassett Services for liability and workers' compensation claims processing.

tschmida@keysnews.com

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