Bowden Moves Forward with Divided Board

Government

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY FRESHLY SQUEEZED CONTENT EVERY MORNING THURSDAY JUL 19, 2018

Superintendent Todd Bowden seems poised to continue as chief of the Sarasota County school district, perhaps through at least 2022. But Bowden moves forward with a School Board bitterly divided about direction and in his leadership.

Bowden received a positive evaluation from a majority of School Board members at a meeting Tuesday night, with his overall scores averaging high enough to warrant a $13,000 raise. He got high marks from School Board members Jane Goodwin and Carol Zucker, average ones from Shirley Brown and low marks from Eric Robinson and Bridget Ziegler, reflective of the often at-odds board setting the district agenda.

“As you manage different initiatives, you always need to make sure you have the support of the board,” Bowden tells SRQ. “I’ve become quite adept at counting to three, but would love to be able to count to four or five.”

But he hopes that the public takes greater comfort in scores for the district, the second highest performing in the state of Florida behind St. Johns County. Interestingly, while Robinson did not vote in favor of offering Bowden a raise this year, he did suggest Tuesday night offering a $15,000-bonus to Bowden if the district climbs to the top spot in the state. Bowden declined. “I’m proud of the role I play strategically, but I’m not the one who instructs kids,” he says. Government should be wary of playing with bonuses using tax revenue anyway, he says.

The most controversial part of the evolution process for the superintendent, though, was discussion of extending his contract through June 2022 and eliminating the ability for a board to terminate him without cause. Bowden notes his predecessor, Lori White, operated with a contract that required a cause should she ever have faced termination. And he said that cause, despite discussion at the board meeting, could be something as simple as insubordination. Robinson said, beyond Bowden’s performance, he didn’t see why the board would give up an ability to change direction, something enjoyed by most county commissions and municipal boards in the region.

But with an election soon—Brown, Goodwin and Ziegler all face challenges in the Aug. 28 primary—does he fear working on a board where a majority don’t have faith in his leadership? “That’s a difficult hypothetical,” he says. “If the board came to me and said the five of us would prefer a different person in the superintendent’s position, my first option would be to figure how to make it work and meet their expectations. But that contract can always be broken by mutual consent.”

That said, Bowden says a four-year contract, something with the job security of elected superintendents and Sarasota’s school board members, is as much a commitment on his part as the board’s. He plans to retire here, he says. “I looked at my daughter last night, who is a sophomore in high school, and said a thin majority of the board made a promise that you can graduate from a high school in Sarasota County,” he says.

Pictured: Superintendent Todd Bowden at the Sarasota County School Board Meeting on July 17.

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