Contract Talks Expose School Board Divide

Todays News

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY MONDAY BUSINESS EDITION MONDAY FEB 18, 2019

Negotiations over a long-term employment for Sarasota Superintendent of Schools further exposed a divide on the School Board.

Superintendent Todd Bowden has negotiated a contract with School Board Chair Jane Goodwin that will come up for discussion at a workshop on Tuesday. But School Board Member Bridget Ziegler says the deal looks lopsided and bad for taxpayers.

She takes issue with offering Bowden a four-year contract, and has even greater concern with a requirement of a supermajority vote to terminate Bowden, even with cause. “This is a horrific agreement for the taxpayers, this community and the entire organization,” Ziegler says.

Goodwin says it's important for the superintendent to have a long-term contract, particularly with the divided nature of the School Board. “We needed to make numerous changes to the outdated 20-year-old contract—change date of evaluation, clean up language in severance, board relationship, duties and salary without bonus,” Goodwin says. “So this made sense.”

Bowden earned mixed reviews in evaluations in July. School Board members Goodwin and Caroline Zucker gave him high marks, Ziegler and Eric Robinson gave low ones and Shirley Brown graded him a little above average. Bowden asked for any discussions of a long-term contract to be delayed until after November elections, as a majority of members were up for vote. Goodwin, Ziegler and Brown all won re-election.

Goodwin still considers Ziegler’s low grades for Bowden unwarranted. The criticisms of contracts now continue that trend. “Upset?” Goodwin says of Ziegler’s commentary. “I call reckless!”

Ziegler also says she felt the contract negotiations should not have been done between the board chair and superintendent, and should have occurred more transparently. But Goodwin says that’s common practice, and the board can take issue with any individual items in a public meeting after finer points get negotiated. “With sunshine, all points must be discussed Tuesday. Fine points can be revised and changed,” she says. “Teachers and the public have never weighed in. Until now.”

Ziegler says her concern over the contract reaches beyond Bowden’s performance, and says she praised certain successes under the superintendent. Her concern remains locking the board into a relationship. “This again undermines the voices of members of this board, no matter who the superintendent is,” she says.

Ziegler acknowledges some districts offer multi-year deals to superintendents, but those districts allow for a simple majority to terminate the deal. The fact Sarasota’s board remains politically divided is all the more reason, she says, not to put a supermajority requirement in place. But she also says the district should not treat its head administrator so different from its teachers, who work on annual contracts.

Pictured: Jane Goodwin, Bridget Ziegler

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