Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Saturday, August 24, 2013
Drake hire on agenda
School Board set to meet Tuesday

Superintendent of Schools Mark Porter will recommend the district offer a new contract to interim Director of Finance and Performance James G. Drake when the School Board meets 5 p.m. Tuesday at Coral Shores High School.

The contract, which would run from Sept. 17 through June 30, would be worth $86,500 to Drake, who came aboard in April.

He initially was hired as a temporary finance chief after a number of lengthy interviews conducted by Porter himself.

At the time, his hiring raised eyebrows locally, as it emerged that Drake left behind a $3.4 million deficit at the Manatee County School District. He was an assistant superintendent also charged with financial management there.

The move is certain to raise the hackles of at least one School Board member, Ed Davidson of District 3, who objected strenuously to Drake's initial hiring. During that vote, School Board Chairman Andy Griffiths also was opposed to Drake.

But Porter sounded upbeat Friday about the prospect of a new contract for Drake, which would remove the "interim" status from his title of executive director of finance and performance.

"I'm anticipating that the board may have some questions about this hire," Porter said. "But I don't think that anyone more thoroughly examined [Drake's] record prior to hiring him for the interim position than I did. I'm very familiar with his experience, including in Manatee, but he's demonstrated competence and ability during his tenure here. I'm going to recommend that he be hired."

Porter said that just four prospects were interviewed during the first-round interview process, from which he selected the two "highest-rated" candidates, including Drake. The other candidate who passed muster then was Ken Blocker, who currently holds an assistant superintendent position in Citrus County.

"[Drake's] role here is different from Manatee," Porter continued. "Here, he's been doing some truly exemplary work for the Monroe County School District."

Davidson, who learned of Porter's intentions late Thursday, pulled no punches when questioned about the matter.

"I'm going to raise hell," Davidson said. "I'm going to point out that this has turned out exactly the way I predicted it would when I opposed the conditions of his hiring originally.

"I said that if we extended his contract until the end of August, instead of the 30th of June, when all the other educational contracts in the country roll over, that we'd wind up with practically no viable candidates two months later, at the end of August," he continued. "That's exactly what's happened. I'm going to be very critical of a fundamentally flawed hiring process that was wrong in all the ways I predicted it would be."

District 4 board member John Dick, who voted to bring Drake aboard last April, albeit with strong reservations, was only slightly less withering in his criticism.

"I think what this does is, it points out the inefficiency and the mishandling of the hiring process, and also points to a deeper problem," Dick said. "Why do we not draw a larger pool of qualified applicants to what many people consider the paradise of the United States? Why is that? I hear from other government agencies that when they put out a call for interview, they get a large pool of applicants. Maybe we're not too appealing."

Drake himself claimed to be keen to continue the work he's started with the district.

"I'm very pleased with what we've been able to accomplish over the past four months, and I'm very interested in being a part of the superintendent's team, moving forward," he said. "Most of the tasks I've been working on are only just beginning to show results about now, including the budget and the annual financial report. We're not exactly where we want to be just yet, but we're certainly going to be making great strides over the coming year."

Also at Tuesday's meeting, board members will discuss the status of a forensic audit of the Horace O'Bryant School construction project that was orally agreed upon by board members at last month's meeting, as well as the permanent parking lot construction being undertaken by local firm Charley Toppino & Sons.

"It was clear to me that there was a consensus of the board that they wanted to put the audit process in motion," Porter said. "So we've put together a request for proposals (RFP) to get quotes from a variety of providers in this regard. We're going to solicit as many competitive quotes as we can. This is a bid for services, so we'll be able to evaluate more than just the cheapest alternative in making our considerations. We're also going to be reviewing our RFP with the Audit and Finance Committee. It should be ready to go by the early part of next week."

This can't happen too soon for either Davidson or Dick, both of whom have expressed a desire to see it happen as soon as possible.

"I have labored to ensure that the forensic audit is brought in unfiltered," Davidson said. "It is without question a vehicle of the School Board, and not of the administration, whose past mismanagement of the HOB project has raised many questions."

Dick expressed impatience at the pace of the audit process.

"At the last board meeting we said that we wanted to get an RFP or request for quotes going as fast as possible to strike while the iron was hot," he said. "I expected it to be ready in a day or two. Now I hear it's going to be the beginning of next week. I think they could have got it done a little faster. We'll get it done. I just don't want them to forget about it. That's all."

Tuesday's meeting will also be the last chance for the public to weigh in on the budget for the 2013-14 school year.

"We're required to have two public hearings on our budget prior to adoption," Porter said. "We've adopted this third opportunity for public engagement due to our unique geography. But the dialogue and discussion will be the same."

tschmida@keysnews.com

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