Sarasota County School Board candidate Teresa Mast believes it’s time for a new set of eyes on the board.
In advance of the Aug. 30 primary election, the Sarasota Observer is asking local candidates about the issues impacting their races. This week, we spoke to the candidates vying for the District 2 seat on the Sarasota County School Board.
What do you see as the top three issues the board will have to address in the next term?
For sure the budget. With that will come Common Core issues and curriculum issues, and for me, a huge issue will be transparency because I believe that all school board business should be extremely 100% transparent.
What should the district’s priorities be when looking for a new superintendent?
First of all, I would like to have the opportunity to have a say in it, and I don’t think I will even get that opportunity. Any time you have new board members coming on, the relationship is imperative between who the new superintendent will be and who your school board is. You want it to be a good marriage...I would like them to slow down the process...
We have a very unique culture in Sarasota County, and he or she needs to understand that we have good schools, but I want them to be the best of the best schools. I believe there needs to be a place for every child no matter what the circumstances are. So we need to have a superintendent who comes in and has great vision and understands the culture here and is willing to work within the community.
How should the district navigate a period of growth with continuing budgetary restraints?
The first thing is I believe we should have zero budgeting.
Zero budgeting is just literally saying that if our budget is a $740 million or $760 million budget, we should be able to make it in those dollars...I do think it’s adequate. We just need to be very accountable for it. We’re second highest in the state for what we spend per student, and there are many other municipalities that are doing much more with much less, so I think it’s good to have a look at it and see. The biggest thing is to have good foresight when it comes to having reserves...
You and your opponent are both fighting for local control of education — why is this such an important issue?
There is a growing frustration with not only Common Core, but the amount of testing that is being done, the amount of time that’s taken away from instructional time... For me, capturing that local control allows us to put it back in the hands of the teachers...We have phenomenal teachers. Let them teach.
How has the money involved in the school board race influenced the election?
When it comes to dollars, I think there is a huge difference in how those dollars have gone about being raised. I have been criticized on many occasions that mine all came from big developers, but if you look at my opponent, she actually has more from those who benefit from capital improvement projects than I do...As far as how we go about doing it and how we are using it, Sarasota County is a very large area to cover, and to get people very aware of your platform, it takes a significant budget.
Do you think the school board has become more politicized?
In a perfect world it’s supposed to be a nonpartisan race, which I don’t think it is. I wish it was. It best serves our community if it’s a nonpartisan race... So to answer your question, I think it’s always been political. I think it always will be political.
Would you consider revisiting the current impact fee system?
I’m for very measurable impact fees because it is a significant revenue generator for the schools in order to be able to afford the capital improvement projects that we have. Currently, it’s at 26%, and I think that’s a pretty fair amount for what we use it for, for what we are going to need to use it for. I do think it’s something that needs to be visited. How often? I’m not sure about that, but when we do visit it, staff needs to be providing us with very current data and stats.
Why should voters replace a long-serving school board member?
I think it’s pretty apparent this entire country is looking for new perspective, and I think it’s time, here locally, to do the same thing. I bring an incredible amount of experience when it comes to community engagement and working within my community. I’m not only a product of the school system, but so are my kids, so is my husband. I bring much more of a perspective of the entire community than someone who has been really ingrained in the system, and I do mean ingrained in the system, for nearly two decades.
Editor’s note: This interview has been condensed and edited for space and clarity.