Florida Keys News
Monday, May 27, 2013
Lefere hiring, HOB money on school agenda

The official hiring of Pat Lefere as executive director of planning and operations, as well as an update on the examination of Horace O'Bryant construction finances, are on the agenda for the School Board meeting, taking place at 5 p.m. Tuesday in Marathon.

Lefere, the retiring commanding officer at Naval Air Station Key West, was recommended to Superintendent of Schools Mark Porter last week by an interview panel. Porter, in turn, presented Lefere with a two-year contract, worth $116,381 per annum, which he signed.

Should the board vote to confirm Lefere, as is expected, the former naval aviator will begin work July 1, leaving Porter with two more full-time hires to make, that of director of human resources, and director of finance and planning.

"I really don't expect a debate" on Lefere's hiring, School Board Chairman Andy Griffiths said. "Superintendent Porter is probably right that the board will embrace this hire. I think it's going to be smooth sailing for the sailor."

Griffiths went on, "The School Board creates positions and sets criteria and qualifications, and approves the job description. The super fills the position. So the only example where the board has any say over the super's appointments is if they can prove he does not meet those board-approved qualifications."

Also on Tuesday, the board is expected to hear the first report on the attestation process currently taking place over the construction of Horace O'Bryant K-8 School. The report will come from Porter and Steve Pribramsky, the Key West CPA and certified fraud examiner hired to look into the construction.

Pribramsky, who is also a former School Board member, on Friday said the attestation process was proceeding apace, with cooperation from Coastal Construction, Inc., the contractor in charge of HOB.

"On Tuesday, I had a productive meeting with Coastal and they turned over a large binder of documents relating specifically to the items I'm working on, Exhibit A, with the 15 things that the board wanted me to look into," Pribramsky said. "Not all relate to Coastal but a lot of them do. I asked a lot of pointed questions, and they gave me some answers. There are some documents that they still have to give to me."

Pribramsky said he had been in close contact with the superintendent regarding the closing-out of the project.

"I've had a couple discussions with Porter on the final accounting," Pribramsky said. "And Porter had me participate with [Interim District Finance Chief] Jim Drake, and officials from Bank of America, so we could do the reconciliation of the bank loan process. That's a reconciliation between the records from Coastal, the School District, and BOA. Anytime you build something, there's a lot of loose ends. We're just figuring out how to tie them up, and close the project out. At first blush, it's gone pretty well."

In evaluating the attestation process, and the HOB project in general, Griffiths was succinct.

"We borrowed $36 million," Griffiths said. "We brought in $2.8 million from the Harris School sale, plus $200,000 for bond issuance costs, for a total budget of $39 million, and I'm guessing that, at the end of the day, with all the change orders, we will come in below $39 million. The way I wish to sum this up, is that at the conclusion of Mr. Pribramsky's attestation, the summary will be four words, 'On time, on budget.'"

Griffiths also said he thought the project had been a bargain for the district.

"The good news here, and I think it may be getting lost in the overall discussion, is the School District is saving $20 million worth of interest, over the life of the loan," he said. "The board has approved $1 million worth of changes that weren't Coastal's fault, including the unsuitable soil excavation, and the redesign of the room. If we do end up over-budget, that will be reason."

Two HOB change orders, which will alter the cost of the project will, in fact, be put before the board for a vote, which is likely to prompt a response from District 3 board member Ed Davidson.

"Change order No. 82 is OK, There was a previous discussion on that," Davidson said Friday. "But No. 83 is to put higher-quality grass on the playing area. In the original discussion that was dropped because the board was told that was more expensive grass than used to be there, and that it wasn't necessary because the intensity of play in middle school was far less than that of bigger, heavier high school soccer players. But the most important reason it was cut out of the original change order was the estimation that this special grass would require $60,000 to $80,000 more per year in fertilizer and maintenance. It has been alleged that the city of Key West has agreed to underwrite the maintenance costs, but I damned sure want to see that in writing before I vote for this change order, lest this really amounts to a $69,000 to $89,000 change order in disguise."

Also on the agenda, Executive Director for Operations Theresa Axford will discuss the implementation plan for the Common Core Curriculum, which will come into effect during the 2014-15 school year, and Drake will present to the board the board's response to the Florida House's Joint Legislative Committee, which earlier this year asked for an explanation for the School District's recurring audit findings.

According to Griffiths, there might also be discussion about delaying Porter's mid-year evaluation, until he has had a chance to hire the rest of his permanent staff. He'll pass it out and it'll come back at the June workshop.

"I will be sharing with the board the evaluation instrument of our first hired superintendent, and it's time for his evaluation," Griffiths said. "The board can take it up now, or they may wait until Mr. Porter fills all of his management positions. They may come back in June and say they don't want to do it yet."

Lastly, Griffiths said he wants to talk about the maintenance of grounds contract renewal, which he plans to pull for an action item.

The district currently contracts with Davie-based Green Horizon Services for landscaping services for $150,000 per year.

"I would prefer we put out for bid, geographic specific requests for proposals," he said. "In this way, local businesses can compete to cut the grass in certain areas of the Keys. The way it's done now, no one local firm appears able to bid on a county-wide job. I've been walking the grounds of the schools and I'm not impressed. I see weeds and uncut grass. They seem to spend more time traveling from Miami than cutting the grass and weeds."

tschmida@keysnews.com

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