Despite talks, contract between union and district is elusive

skinney@keynoter.comDecember 28, 2013 

The Monroe County School District, led by Superintendent Mark Porter, devoted lots of energy to contract talks in 2103.

District negotiators, led by Porter, spent six months in 2013 trying hammer out a contract with the United Teachers of Monroe, only for the talks to break down in December.

On the table is a one-year contract that would retroactively cover the 2013-14 school year for 525 teachers and 114 schools support staff.

The School Board and Porter have ended a controversial seven-day unpaid furlough program in place since 2011, although their funding concept of using $1.2 million in state money to do so has been rejected by the Department of Education. That prompted Porter to withdraw from negotiations and hand off the reins to labor attorney Bob Norton.

Now Porter is working on a way to defray the costs without tapping into the district's reserves.

In September, the School Board adopted an $84.5 million budget. The tax rate is $3.68 per $1,000 of assessed taxable property value, up slightly from the previous fiscal year. The owner of a $300,000 home paid $1,158 in schools taxes this year.

The budget was prepared by district Finance Director James Drake, part of a new team of administrators Porter hired in 2013.

In August, Porter hired Drake, a former Manatee County School District finance chief, under a one-year contract that runs until June 30 and is worth $91,004 annually.

Pat LeFere, former commanding officer of Naval Air Station Key West, was hired on July 1 to serve as director of operations under a two-year contract worth $116,381 annually.

In June, the superintendent hired Ramon Dawkins to replace Cheryl Allen as Human Resources director. He makes $95,025 per year under an annual contract runs until June 30, 2014.

As happens every year, the School Board reorganized in November, with Chairman Ron Martin replacing Andy Griffiths for a one-year term and Vice Chairman Robin Smith-Martin replacing board member John Dick in that capacity.

In June 487 Florida Keys students graduated from the county's three public high schools. That was 260 from Key West High, 63 from Marathon High and 164 from Coral Shores High in Tavernier.

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