Sarasota School Board Parting Ways With Superintendent

Todays News

Image courtesy Sarasota Schools: Superintendent Brennan Asplen sits beside School Board Chair Bridget Ziegler as the board discusses scheduling discussions of his termination.

A new Sarasota County School Board has been in place less than a week. But the board has already seen its lead counsel depart, and the holiday weekend was spent negotiating resignation terms for the superintendent.

Discussions of a severance package unfolded after the School Board voted 4-1 last Tuesday to discuss terminating Dr. Brennan Asplen. That vote took place shortly after two newly elected members, Robyn Marinelli and Tim Enos, were sworn in. Sitting School Board Member Karen Rose made the motion to hold a special meeting to discuss the firing.

School Board Member Tom Edwards, the lone vote against the move, said the rapid action immediately calls into question the political motivations of the new majority. “None of this is in the best interest of students, families, staff or the district,” he said.

Edwards worried the rapid action showed new members were collaborating ahead of the meeting outside of public view, a violation of the Sunshine Law. He also notes the board never voted to authorize negotiations for Asplen’s resignation, but he was informed by legal counsel on Saturday that those discussions were underway.

He’s frustrated on multiple levels. To fire Asplen without cause would cost the district $87,000 based on contract terms alone, and the district is discussing a parting of ways that could cost the district twice that amount, Edwards said. But beyond the fiscal impact, he’s upset the district will have to install an interim superintendent just as a largely new board sets policies in place and as the district moves forward with a board-enacted strategic plan.

In addition to ongoing discussions with Asplen, School Board Attorney Dan DeLeo submitted his resignation as lead counsel ahead of the new board members being sworn in. The district continues to have the same law firm, Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, on contract.

School Board Chair Bridget Ziegler said she was surprised how quickly the discussion of Asplen’s future arose, and that she considers the superintendent a moral leader. But she said there’s no doubt voters want a change in the leadership for the district. She was previously part of a political minority on the board, and won re-election in the same August election when Sarasota County voters elected two new members. All board members who won in August were registered Republicans who ran on conservative platforms.

“The community overwhelmingly spoke about the need for a different direction for the board, so it does warrant a conversation,” she said. “Their focus was on the board, which sets policy, but there was a resounding vote for change, and one can’t deny the role any administrator who implements the will of the board plays in that.”

Any change in a board make-up for any organization can result in a change in leadership, she said. The superintendent of schools is the only employee the school board has a direct role in hiring or firing. But Ziegler said a shift doesn’t have to create any disruption at the classroom level for the district.

“Unequivocally, my focus is the ensure every decision we are doing is to maintain stability and what is in the best interest of the district and its working and learning environment,” she said. “I am open to options to ensure a stable process.”

The School Board meets Tuesday to discuss Asplen’s future with the district.   

Image courtesy Sarasota Schools: Superintendent Brennan Asplen sits beside School Board Chair Bridget Ziegler as the board discusses scheduling discussions of his termination.

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