Monroe County schools have far fewer administrators, lower executive salaries, and about the same number of classroom teachers -- more than 600 -- than six years ago.
So recent attacks decrying a "top-heavy" administration aren't only based on falsehoods, they're about six years too late, School Board Chairman John Dick said Tuesday.
"Everybody is coming now and complaining and they're pointing fingers at all the wrong places," Dick said at Tuesday's board meeting in Marathon. "This misinformation is purposely being put out there."
The five-man School Board and Superintendent Jesus Jara have been out and about over the past week at a series of town-hall style meetings to introduce the public to the proposed list of $6.2 million in budget cuts needed to bridge the gap in the 2012-2013 school year's estimated $78.5 million operating costs.
"We are all feeling the pain," Jara told a crowd of about 70 in Marathon, after showing the budget cuts that include a $2.8 million reduction by eliminating 40 teacher jobs.
Reaction to the budget cuts by residents, including teachers, has grown contentious, with much of the blowback aimed squarely at Jara, appointed eight months ago by Gov. Rick Scott to fill out the rest of ousted Superintendent Randy Acevedo's second elected term.
On Tuesday, Dick took a moment to point out the numbers in response to critics who accuse the board of overspending.
"This is the real deal," said Dick. "This is not just me coming in here and talking out of ... I won't say what."
The School District in 2006 had 65 administrators; today there are 40. In 2008, 14 administrators earned over $100,000 in salary; today eight do.
"It was the insiders that did this damage to this district," said Dick. "Five or six years ago, nobody said a word. Now when we are trimmed down quite drastically, people try to blame it on outsiders. The outsiders are the ones who cleaned it up over the past two years. The people putting out the misinformation are trying to go back to the way it was."
Board member Robin Smith-Martin agreed, although he warned Dick about using words like "outsiders" and "insiders," and said some criticism is lacking in basic facts.
"I've had people who think I'm a woman who gets paid $100,000," said Smith-Martin, referring to a message he saw about himself recently.
School Board members get paid about $28,000.
In 2005, the district had a reserve of some $12 million, which plummeted to $2 million in 2010.
Dick said that the recent era of overspending caused much of the recent financial crisis, and at one point traded words with Andy Griffiths, the board's senior member first elected in 1992.
Griffiths said that he always demanded notification of a shrinking fund balance.
"If you don't do anything, it doesn't matter," Dick told Griffiths. "Being notified and doing nothing does nothing."
Griffiths replied quietly, "It takes a majority."
Dick later disagreed with a resident that raising taxes would be the district's salvation.
"The community is not going to give the schools more money," Dick said. "You're going to find a different story when you ask for more."
Board member Ron Martin, a 39-year veteran of the school system, said no one is pleased over the current state of finances.
"I lose sleep over these things," said Martin, who represents the Upper Keys. "I worry about everybody. We need to work together."