John:

We need your help. More than ever, we need your help.

When you were elected to the School Board, you made it your mission to restrain, ideally reduce, the size of the District administration. Generally speaking, you were successful and the voters rewarded you with reelection twice.

A noteworthy exception to restraining administrative growth came early in the Porter administration when the Board acceded to the creation of a new, six-figure position—Executive Director of Operations and Planning. Superintendent Porter said that he needed someone to coordinate and oversee planning and operations as the title states. Now, that person is saying that he cannot do the job, that he needs a “Facilities Planner” to do what he was appointed to do. Board member Ed Davidson suggested that the job duties overlapped with other staff, and I agree.

The Executive Director of Operations and Planning, Patrick Lefere, has told you that “I wouldn’t come to you unless it (the new job) was an absolute requirement.” Say what? Why does the District need two directors for Facilities Planning? It makes no sense.

Lefere went on to say that “In my prior life I lived through multiple cycles of downsizing and learned to do more with less.” How is hiring someone with a six-figure (pardon my rounding) salary doing more with less? It makes no sense to say that and is reminiscent of that oxymoron “military intelligence”.

In the last decade, the Monroe County School District has successfully built three high schools and one middle school without a “Facilities Planner”. In fact, those construction projects were completed without an Executive Director of Operations and Planning. The District is presently not engaged in any construction projects and none are in the foreseeable future. That being the case, where is the need for a “Facilities Planner”?

Lefere reports that he is in a “day-to-day game of whack-a-mole with things that come up on a daily basis.” I ask you: What “things”? Lefere provides no substance to sustain his generality and begs credulity. That is, he claims that his office is overwhelmed with facilities planning issues at a time when no facilities are being planned, let alone on a daily basis. How is that possible?

It strikes me that Lefere is playing fast and loose with the truth to achieve an objective. I do not see how the Board can agree without some evidence, some substance to demonstrate the need. There is a rumor in the community that Lefere is endeavoring to create a high paying job for a military friend who is retiring. I hope that is not the case, that the rumor is not true, and I see no reason why the Board cannot ask him before proceeding.

Lefere tells you that the position is already in the budget as if to say that the Board has already approved its creation. Is that the case? If so, you need to read the budget more carefully, line by line appears necessary. Further, Lefere says that the funds are “not coming out of the classroom” as if that somehow makes the expenditure acceptable. I think that spending $99,000 needs more whitewash than that.

Board member Davidson has raised some very valid questions about the qualifications for the position, questions that deserve thorough and comprehensive answers. I would add a few more questions to Davidson’s list. For example:

  1. How many school districts in Florida have a “Facilities Planner”? Which districts?
  2. What are the qualifications for these positions and how do they compare with MCSD’s statement of qualifications? That is, what is the successful candidate expected to do?
  3. How do the salaries for the “Facilities Planners” in other districts compare with what MCSD intends to offer? This is important for a variety of reasons including the fact that the District has a disposition to overpay. For example, two years ago the District hired a purchasing agent who did the same thing for the Sheriff’s Department and promptly doubled her salary.
  4. Where does the Maintenance Department fit into the equation, especially the management hierarchy? When the District contracted out janitorial and landscape services that freed up time to address other issues, e.g. renovations. Furthermore, the District is subcontracting routine maintenance such as painting and air conditioning repair while liberally advertising that fact in the local media. Not sure why.

We are in virgin territory when it comes to a “Facilities Planner”, but we can learn from others.

As you know, I dispute Lefere’s sense of urgency and I urge you to proceed with caution. You are being asked to create a permanent position with one of the highest salaries in the District. This position will live on in perpetuity. For all practical purposes, you are not being asked to approve a $99,000 expenditure. Before everything is said and done, you are easily talking about a million dollars and probably much more over the years.

As Chairman of the School Board and principal opponent of “administrative creep”, I ask you to lead the Board in opposition to creating an unnecessary position.

Larry Murray

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