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Sarasota Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019 3 weeks ago

Community calls for action as Bowden agrees to step down

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The school board will vote on a "mutual separation agreement" that would terminate Bowden's contract Dec. 31.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

With a simple majority vote of the school board Nov. 19, Sarasota County Schools could begin the search for a new superintendent.

If school board members vote to accept a “mutual separation agreement” at that meeting, Superintendent Todd Bowden would be placed immediately on paid administrative leave for the rest of the calendar year with no official duties other than answering questions from whomever the board installs as acting superintendent.

Bowden, who earlier this week said he agreed to the terms of the separation deal set in motion by the board and drafted by school board attorney Art Hardy, would receive 20 weeks of salary and benefits before Jan. 15, 2020, and more than $65,000 in legal fee reimbursement.

Both the Republican Party of Sarasota County and the Sarasota County Democratic Party, in a rare joint statement, called for the school board to sign off on the deal. “The two political parties agree that it is time for Bowden to go, and the proposed package is the best pathway to remove him,” the statement said. “We urge the School Board to accept it, so the district can move forward.”

Bowden for weeks has faced criticism since Cheraina Bonner, the administrative assistant to former Chief Operations Officer Jeff Maultsby, filed a complaint against Bowden in which she said her complaints of sexual harassment by Maultsby, who resigned earlier this month, were ignored.

A conclusion drawn by a district-hired investigator, Sproat Workplace Investigations, found that Bowden failed to respond to the situation, though Bowden said he acted appropriately each time he was given more information from Bonner. Bowden countered that if Bonner had been more forthcoming with information, more immediate action would have been taken.

At a special meeting last Tuesday, school board members discussed Bowden and heard for the first time Bowden discuss leaving his role as superintendent. 

In a proposal to the board, Bowden offered to step down in exchange for a 10-year contract in an executive director position overseeing district facilities. He proposed a salary of $175,000 annually — which would have reduced his annual salary by $32,000 — 20 weeks of severance pay, annuity payment and $57,000 reimbursement of attorney’s fees.

Board Chair Jane Goodwin said she had concerns with the longevity of the contract. 

“I don’t know of anyone in the world that gets a contract of 10 years,” Goodwin said.

Board members Eric Robinson and Bridget Ziegler agreed with the public and stated it was time for Bowden to go. Goodwin, who at the meeting called Bowden a “dear friend,” noted that the public was against him continuing in the role and that he “isn’t good at handling these situations.”

Board Member Shirley Brown expressed concerns that Bowden wouldn’t be able to get another job in the educational field if the board were to fire him, but she ultimately decided to vote to put him on notice.

The board moved ahead with a 4-1 vote giving Bowden 30 days’ notice of possible reprimand, suspension or termination. Board Member Caroline Zucker voted against the 30-day notice.

Martha Magenheim, a former teacher and current substitute in the district, said during the meeting that the focus should be on students, not restoring confidence in the district’s leader.

“My dad retired after 40-something years, and he said, ‘Martha, you’ll be missed as much as the impression your elbow makes in a pail of water,’” Magenheim said. “Everyone can be replaced.”

In a statement, Bowden said he and his wife plan to remain in the area, where their two children will continue their education in Sarasota County schools.

“For three years I have had the privilege of serving Sarasota County schools as superintendent,” he said in the statement. “I have witnessed excellence among our teachers, dedication between our principals, care from our staff and innovative approaches to learning by our administrators.

“Because of their efforts, our students have excelled academically and are well positioned to become caring and informed citizens of the world. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve so many, and I hope the next superintendent will further propel this outstanding school district to excel even more.”

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