The faces will remain the same on the Sarasota County School Board. Will the divisions carry over into a new term?
After hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on contentious campaigns, two Sarasota County School Board races were decided by a margin of one percent or less — but in the end, the board will remain unchanged headed into a new term.
Incumbents Bridget Ziegler, Shirley Brown and Jane Goodwin all won re-election to the School Board on Tuesday, maintaining the makeup of what has been a divided elected body.
In the District 1 race, Ziegler defeated challenger Nick Guy 50.6% to 49.41%. Ziegler has been on the School Board since 2014, first appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to fill a vacancy and then victorious in an election later that year.
In District 4, incumbent Shirley Brown beat Karen Rose 50.4% to 49.6%. Brown has been on the board since 2006 and touted her experience as a leading selling point.
In District 5, incumbent Jane Goodwin earned re-election in a four-way race. Goodwin got 53.2% of the vote, beating out her next closest competitor, Pamela Gavette, who earned 22.3%. Richard Linden got 13.3%, and Justin Cody Willis got 11.3%.
After the results came in, all three winners discussed their priorities for their next terms — and the future dynamics of an often-contentious board.
Ziegler has frequently found herself in the minority among a divided group — such as earlier this year, when the board voted 3-2 to give Superintendent Todd Bowden a positive review and raise.
She hoped the board would be able to find opportunities to work collegially even if philosophical disagreements remain.
“I, personally will do the same self reflection this evening and in the next couple days: How do we come together and find common ground, set aside any personal disagreements and focus?” Ziegler said.
Brown and Goodwin, however, saw their victories as affirmation of their strongly held philosophies on the best direction for the district. Although Brown offered a mixed assessment of Bowden in her personal review, she ultimately rated him as better-than effective. Brown was one of three board members who voted in July to round up Bowden's average review score and award him a raise.
Brown’s support for Bowden earned her the ire of the teacher’s union, which endorsed Rose. Following her victory, Brown offered criticism of the union — and Ziegler — while expressing a desire to improve fractured relationships where possible.
“I hope that their union membership is not happy with the leadership,” Brown said. “The union needs to tell its leadership that they wasted $100,000 in this race, and if they had given a little bit of support to Nick, they could have had a really strong pro-public school candidate on the board.”
Goodwin, too, was critical of the union and steadfast in her support of Bowden.
“They want to get rid of him at any cost and in any way possible,” Goodwin said. “I do not. I think he’s visionary, I think he’s a brilliant man and I want to see him in that position.”
Goodwin said she would aggressively pursue a series of priorities in her new term, including an emphasis on support for traditional public schools and increased efforts to assist students living in poverty. She, too, hoped the board could get to a more stable place going forward, but she thought the responsibility fell on other members. She remained critical of Ziegler and board member Eric Robinson, calling their critical reviews of Bowden inappropriate.
“I would be disingenuous if I told you that I didn’t think that there are others I don’t feel have the good interest of Sarasota County Schools in mind,” Goodwin said. “But I think you can always be cordial and polite. We can disagree, but we can get along.”