As predicted, the School Board on Tuesday evening voted to formally settle its monetary differences with Horace O'Bryant Middle School architect Rick Z. Smith.
The Tampa-based architect will receive an additional $187,500 to resolve a contract dispute triggered in January when Smith suspended work on the Leon Street school, claiming his "construction administration" fees were smaller than previously agreed upon. At what turned out to be a fairly routine, end-of-year meeting, the board unanimously approved the extra money, which will patch up the differences between the board and Smith, whose firm, Rick Z. Smith and Associates, Architects Inc., has been doing business with the district for decades.
School Board Chairman Andy Griffiths said later that the disagreement between the district and Smith's company was more of a miscommunication than a bad faith gesture on either side. The agreement was reached in a meeting between attorneys for both sides at a meeting called as a result of a lawsuit that would allow the consultation to take place outside of Florida's Sunshine Law, for open government.
"We just formalized what was agreed upon," Griffiths said after the vote. "Simple."
In other news from the meeting in Marathon, board members also voted unanimously to keep their present salaries, rejecting a formula put forward by the Florida School Boards Association. Abiding by that calculation would have increased payouts to School Board members by 2.2 percent in the coming year.
Board members also discussed the district's "change orders" policy, which in recent weeks has become a bone of contention at the district's Audit and Finance Committee (AFC). At issue are bonus payments due to contractor Coastal Construction should the company finish the job at HOB, due to be completed in June, under budget. An AFC report prepared by then-Chairman Stuart Kessler questioned some of the "savings" being discussed, though neither the board nor Schools Superintendent Mark Porter have advocated paying any bonus monies to Coastal before the job was completed and the final price tag tallied.
"We're looking forward to a report from the School District attorney on what constitutes the savings that cause a bonus to be paid to the contractor, so that everybody's on the same page," Griffiths said after the meeting.
Board member John Dick also was pleased that the discussion was taking place.
"I question those savings, but I'm comforted by the fact that they will come before the board for approval," he said. "They sound funny to me."
Lastly, board members discussed recently released numbers that show, under a new calculating formula, that the graduation rate is up at Coral Shores High School, down at Marathon High School, and about where it was two years ago at Key West High School.
Superintendent Porter acknowledged that the report could have been better.
"We know there's work to be done," he said.