Meet the candidate.
Name: Gina K. Messenger
Family: Matthew Messenger (Husband), Olivia and Mia Messenger (Daughters)
Bio: I am a Manatee County native. I grew up in Northwest Bradenton and graduated from Manatee High School in 2005. Many members of my family served as public service role models. My grandmother, Carmela Busciglio, was a teacher in Manatee County. My father, Joe Busciglio, served the community by working in the Manatee County Health Department for 38 years, and my mother, Karla, is a registered nurse who traveled the county to serve the community. An early experience volunteering at Jessie P. Miller as a high school student influenced my decision to become a teacher. My sister also became a teacher and is educating college students in Tampa.
I attended the University of Central Florida where I received many awards, including The President’s List. I received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 2009 and went on to teach in Marion and Orange Counties. My experience teaching in rural and inner-city environments emphasizes my focus on the importance of Title I (high poverty) and early childhood education. While teaching in Orange County, I was rated a “highly effective” teacher.
I married my college sweetheart in 2012 in Orlando. My husband, Matt, and I bought a house in Parrish in January of 2015. In May 2015, we welcomed a beautiful little girl, Olivia. In April 2018, we welcomed a second but equally as beautiful little girl, Mia.
Why are you running for office?
I chose to run in 2016 because there was no one on the board like me. I wanted to be a voice for parents and teachers.
I am running for reelection because the School District of Manatee County has made significant improvements, and we need to ensure that we continue to move forward in a positive way.
During my time on the board, the district’s bond rating has improved to an A rating. Improved financial planning has allowed for stability and reserves to grow. School grades have improved, and so has the district’s ranking in the state. Over the past four years, Manatee County’s state ranking has risen from 39 to 29, up by 10.
Over the past four years, new programs have become available to students including entrepreneurship courses, dual-language, AICE Cambridge, Woz Career Pathways and technical training for construction and automotive careers. We have opened three new schools, one of which is a new hurricane shelter.
During my time on our school board, we have seen student achievement improve, financial stability and more opportunities for our students. We need to continue to move forward, and that is why I am asking for your vote Aug. 18.
If elected, what will be your top three priorities during your term?
- Manatee County becomes an A school district: Families deserve to know that their child is getting the best education. Becoming an A district would not only support our students but would improve all resident’s quality of life in Manatee County. Part of attracting more businesses to Manatee County relates to our education system. Businesses will not want to relocate to Manatee County if our school system is not good for their employees’ families. So our continued improvements mean more businesses coming to Manatee County. That means more jobs and opportunities for families here in Manatee County.
- Better communication to families and community: The school district’s communication with the community is vital. Over the past few years, the school district has made strides to work with more community organizations to better support communication with the community. However, I also believe we need to improve communication with our families. Families should be part of the decision-making process. Family involvement is key to academic success.
- Financial stability: We have made great strides in ensuring more tax dollars are reaching our students. We need to continue to be budge- focused, which is why I have taken courses in school district finances and Florida education funding offered by the Florida School Boards Association. I worked as a member of the board to institute a policy to have 5% in reserves, but, as we are seeing now with this pandemic, those reserves are very important. Our revenue sharply decreased in April. Having healthy reserves will be important in this coming year because we do not know what this year will hold.
What is your position on the following:
- Charter schools
I support parents having choices. The school district has added many new programs within the past few years to ensure that our families have many choices under the public-school system. Last year Manatee County added a program that is the first in the nation, WozCareer Pathways. This program teaches coding and other STEM career options for students. Two new technical programs were added to our high schools — construction and automotive. The school district has added a dual-language program and AICE Cambridge program to two elementary schools. There is a new entrepreneurship course offered at many high schools. Next year, the district will add a new arts magnet program and a community partnership school.
Although I support nonprofit charter schools, the job of the school board is clearly defined by state statutes. The school board has very little to do with charter schools and vouchers. The board must approve any charter school application that follows the law. The state legislature sets the rules and regulations for charter schools and voucher programs. The school board may act as a pass-through for money, but the district is obligated to follow the law and remit money to the schools.
- The state’s recently expanded voucher-scholarship program.
As I stated above, I support choices for families. However, the school board does not have a say in the laws that govern vouchers. Those laws come from the state, and the school districts must comply.
Do you feel district leadership is taking the district in the right direction? Why or why not?
Yes. During my time on the board, the School District of Manatee County has improved. Four years ago, Manatee County was ranked 39th in the state; last year it was ranked 29th in the state. The School District of Manatee County is just a couple points shy of being an A district. Financially, reserves have grown, and the percentage of the budget going toward general administration has decreased.
As we all know, we are in the middle of a pandemic. Through this pandemic, our superintendent has shown incredible grit. She has led her team through closing schools, implementing e-learning on short notice, vital student feeding programs, innovative Wi-Fi options and now into reopening of schools, with multiple options for families to choose from. She has worked tirelessly to involve community input and stakeholder groups throughout her endeavors.
As we move forward in these unprecedented times, we know that we will need leadership stability. That doesn’t mean I will always agree with everything the school district puts forth; in fact, I question things vigorously. However, current leadership uses a shared decision-making focus that is necessary for our current circumstances.
Do you feel single-member representation is working well for the school board races?
As a Manatee County native, I have lived in three out of the five districts in Manatee County. My job requires my consideration of the entire county when making a decision. When any constituent reaches out to me, I listen and respond. That is not based on which district they live in; we all live in Manatee County. I work for all of Manatee County.
However, in 2018 Manatee County voted to make elections “single-member,” meaning only the residents in their district elect their representative, making the election no longer countywide. This will go into effect next election cycle.
What would you recommend to help Manatee public schools attract the most qualified teachers?
There are many things I believe the school district can do. Most importantly, the school district must work on its workplace culture. Employees need to know that they are appreciated. Common goals need to be defined and supports put in place, so that it’s clear to everyone that they are part of the team. This is something that the school district is working toward with its new strategic plan. The new strategic plan will create shared goals among employees and will hopefully build a culture of collaboration, value and teamwork.
What’s your position on school impact fees?
During my first term, I supported impact fees being raised to 100%.
Where do you stand on term limits for school board members?
This is not my decision to make. This is a decision made by voters and/or the state legislature. I would accept what the voters would decide.
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