School Board needs to respect involved parents and supportive community

Guest Correspondence

The Superintendent’s contract was on the agenda for a School Board workshop this week. It has been a point of contention in the community and was the beginning of the end for the last Superintendent before this one. It has a historic transparency problem and at least one School Board member had, and apparently still has, disdain for public input on the contract.

We were surprised there was absolutely no agenda back-up, nor the contract, included in the packet on the Sunday before the Tuesday workshop meeting. It felt like de ja vu and we were concerned what was being hidden from the public. 

Back in 2019, Argus stayed largely silent on several issues involving that Superintendent. The contract, its terms, and the way it was kept from the public, and ramrodded through a School Board meeting, was the moment we decided it was time to speak up on the issue of the failure of leadership back then. We wrote an op-ed in the Herald-Tribune and from that point on, it was a downward spiral leading to the Superintendent exiting and our new Superintendent today.

The current mission of the School Board according to their website is as follows: “The School District of Sarasota County prepares students to achieve the highest learning standards by engaging a high quality staff, involved parents, and a supportive community.”

Mission statements are an organization’s reason or purpose for being. They drive how the organization will serve its stakeholders.

The Argus Foundation has focused on the “learning standards” portion of the mission statement in recent months. We have been posting various statistics about our school district in comparison to other districts and the state average in our Sarasota School Data Dig social media project. We have done this without comment, editorializing, or blame. It has been done to try to shift the conversation of our School Board and public back to academics, because many of our scores show that we need to shift. 

A lot of people have been shocked at the statistics we have divulged and had no idea we had the problems we do. This indicates that there is a lack of engagement on academics and leads us to the last six words of the mission statement, “involved parents, and a supportive community.”

We are hopeful the School Board will spend more time on academics and improving them, but it is equally important that they have partners in parents and the community. 

The hiding of this contract until the last minute was not a trustworthy action leading to confidence of stakeholders. This was a public document from the start and one of the most important actions to represent the public that the School Board can take. The public should have been allowed to weigh in with the School Board, at a minimum through calls and emails, days before the workshop where changes were made. 

The Argus Foundation publicly posted the contract on social media the Sunday before the Tuesday meeting after we requested it from a School Board member, who, by law, was compelled to give it to us. We did this without comment, just as we have done with the scores and statistics. We also re-posted our 2019 op-ed on the Superintendent contract back then, only generally indicating that the lessons from then are still valuable today.

It is important this School Board regains its focus on its mission and applies it, without resentment for having to engage its partners and stakeholders. Transparency will be a key determination of the School Board’s intent with that relationship. 

While the start of this contract was not good, we sincerely hope that this Superintendent’s contract can end better than the last one did. It will take leadership to make that happen. 

Christine Robinson is executive director of The Argus Foundation.

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