ISLAMORADA -- Monroe County Schools Superintendent Jesus Jara says the district is willing to pay for identity theft protection for the seven board members of the Treasure Village Montessori charter school, whose Social Security numbers were accidentally posted online by district staff last month.
"We'll do it for up to a year," Jara told the Free Press last week.
His comments came as board members expressed outrage, not just because the district exposed them to potential identity theft, but also because they felt the response from Jara had been far from adequate.
"There has been no personal contact from the school district to any of us," Treasure Village Montessori Board Chairman Ed Kinkelaar said last week. "Zero."
Jara's office posted the Social Security numbers on May 2, he said, along with backup material related to a favorable audit Treasure Village Montessori recently received. The audit was part of the agenda for a Monroe County School Board workshop held March 8, but the district is required to remove sensitive personal information, most importantly Social Security numbers, prior to releasing any documents into the public domain.
The Social Security numbers were discovered online the next morning when a friend notified Treasure Village Montessori board member Carol Luse about the problem, Principal Kelly Astin said.
Later that morning, approximately 18 hours after they were first posted, the district removed the Social Security numbers, Jara said. He confirmed that they were taken down in an email to Astin at 3:07 p.m. that day.
But by then at least one board member's identity had already been compromised. Treasure Village Montessori Vice Chairman John Sutter said that since May 3 two fraudulent charges have been made on his credit cards. In addition, since signing up for identity theft protection, he has been alerted to several other attempted fraudulent transactions in his name.
Sutter said he has spent many hours enrolling in various protection programs, changing account numbers and replacing credit cards. He said the situation has left him feeling violated and worried constantly about his finances.
But plenty of his ire is directed toward the way Jara's office has handled the aftermath of the mistake. Sutter, Kinkelaar and board member Jill Miranda Baker vented frustration not only about never being contacted directly, but also because they had not been assured that steps were taken to prevent such a mistake from happening in the future.
"I understand human error. It occurs in an organization," Sutter said. "What is difficult to accept is that you have a volunteer board that is working to improve education and this is the type of shabby treatment we have gotten from the school district."
In his Free Press interview last week, Jara said the situation had, in fact, been corrected. The mistake occurred, he said, when Treasure Village Montessori sent the audit to his office after the agenda had already been developed.
Eager to make the news available to the public, Jara said he asked for the item to be posted to the web without giving it a close look or directing someone else to do so.
New protocols, Jara said, require multiple eyes to view pending website materials before they are linked to the school board agenda. And nothing is to be posted in haste.
"We did that internally right away, the next day," Jara said.
As for communications, Jara doesn't dispute that he didn't contact the charter school's board members directly. He chose instead to relay information, including a previous offer for the district to cover six months of identity theft protection for the board members, through the principal, Astin.
"The conversation came through me and came through Kelly," Jara said.