School Board Seat Draws Crowd of Hopefuls



An open contest to fill a vacancy on the Sarasota School Board turned into one of the hottest contests in the region when Gov. Rick Scott appointed one of the candidates to the job. Now, incumbent Bridget Ziegler is defending her new job against challengers Ken Marsh, Velton Hodges and Paul Schafer.

Ziegler, named the District 1 School Board member in June, said she is running to provide a voice for people outside of professional education circles. "I have always wanted to passionately represent the voice of parents," she said. Ziegler, an insurance agent with Al Purmort Insurance, said the School Board needs to be diversified with business voices, and is also running on a promise of good stewardship with tax dollars.

Marsh retired this year as director of long-range planning for the Sarasota County School District, where he spent 20 years in various leadership roles. "I actually participated in writing many of the policies in place now," he said. "School assignment, redistricting, many other policies, I'm familiar with all of those. My 35 years working in two school districts is a great advantage; I'm really ready for this type of position right now."

Schafer has his own background in education, as a school board member in New York. There, he was part of a board for a smaller district in a nonpaying position, and he plans to run a campaign down here that does not rely at all on campaign donations. It's his experience with education policy that he hopes sets him apart. "Schools have taken on so many responsibilities, from lowering highway fatalities to reducing racial prejudice… Every problem that comes along is deemed a school problem," he said. "But the School Board should not be that political. We can argue about Common Core and charter schools, fine, but those are things that really matter."

Velton Hodges, who also plans to run without taking donations, comes with experience representing the needs of teachers. President of the Sarasota Education Association for 12 years, Hodges retired as an educator in 2012 and now is looking to the board post.  His focus is on campus safety. "I hate to leave our most vulnerable population unprotected," he said. Hodges has hopes to redirect financial resources back toward keeping student resource officers on all campuses. He also wants to make sure teacher have a stronger voice in setting curriculum.

This seat was vacated earlier this year by the resignation of School Board member Carol Todd. The nonpartisan School Board District 1 election is scheduled for Aug. 26 and is open to all voters; if no candidate gets a majority of votes, the top two vote-getters advance to a runoff in November.

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