The School Board District 1 race is the only contested School Board race with an incumbent seeking re-election.
Carol Todd’s 12 years on the School Board has become the centerpiece not only for her campaign, but also those of her opponents.
The incumbent believes her experience separates her from Barry Woolf and Joe Neunder.
“I have knowledge and expertise,” said Todd, who holds a doctorate in education. “I make decisions, not based on passion, but on data and information.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology, Todd began post-college work as a substitute teacher.
“There were no jobs for people with a sociology degree,” she joked.
It was her experience as a substitute that spurred her to pursue a master’s and doctorate in education.
“I fell in love with teaching,” she said. “My favorite students were the ones sent to the office.”
Todd wants to continue her work on the School Board, because she believes there’s a lack of stability right now.
“We need stability in the budget,” she said “It’s not good for morale to build new programs and then tear them down because we don’t have the budget anymore.”
Programs such as literacy coaches, data coaches and middle-school intramural sports were created during the administrations of previous superintendents, when tax money was in abundance and then eliminated when budgets were tightened.
“It’s no secret I didn’t see eye-to-eye with (former superintendent) Gary Norris’ spending,” said Todd. “I voted no, no, no and more no and then was taken to task for not being a team player.”
Todd said the school district, under Norris, had been in the practice of spending all the money it collected, including moving $20 million in capital-improvement funds to the operating budget and spending it.
She believes if that money had stayed in the capital-improvement fund during good economic times, it could be used now to offset some of the drastic budget cuts.
Despite Todd’s record of voting against some district spending, Neunder is hitting her hard on the budget.
“I’m a fiscal conservative,” he said. “Both of my opponents are not.”
And Neunder is using Todd’s School Board experience against her.
“During the incumbent’s 12 years, we’ve seen an increase in spending and no progression in academic achievement,” he said.
The chiropractor and father of one says FCAT scores have remained flat while spending has increased.
Neunder sees the most sensible place to make budget cuts now is in administrator and teacher salaries.
“We should move to merit pay,” he said.
He acknowledges that teachers and school employees are a strong voting block and that he may be alienating them, but he’s willing to take that risk.
“I can only go by what I think is correct,” he said. “If taxpayers have to tighten their belts, then schools should, too.”
For Woolf, the most sensible place to make cuts is the eight-person communications department.
“I used to be a sales manager for a Fortune 500 company (Jostens); we had a communications/public relations department that was one woman, one secretary and two graduate assistants,” he said. “The school district has eight people, including two secretaries who earn about $50,000. It gets to the point of being ludicrous.”
Woolf had a successful career as a corporate trainer and contract speaker, for which he traveled all over the world. But one day he decided that he wanted to spend more time in Sarasota. A friend suggested he become a substitute teacher.
“One of the (substitute coordinators) asked if I wanted to cover special-education classes,” he said. “I found they were very rewarding, helping raise the students’ self-esteem and confidence.”
Just like Todd, it was Woolf’s experience as a substitute that was the driving force behind his run for School Board.
One of Woolf’s main goals is to get parents to express interest in their children’s education.
“I’m going to go on a campaign to get parents to revive their energy and desire to get involved,” he said. “I know there are people in crisis, but parents can’t abandon their responsibilities.”
Woolf believes the difference between him and his opponents is that he will stand for nothing but excellence from students, especially when it comes to FCAT testing.
“Let’s not give each other ‘attaboys,’ because other schools are doing worse,” he said. “Let’s do better.”
Hometown: Washington, D.C.
Family: Married with one grandchild
Education: Bachelor’s degree in sociology from University of South Florida, master’s degree in education from American University, Ph.D. in education from USF
Career: Assistant professor at St. Leo University; national education and governance consultant
Hometown: Buffalo, N.Y.
Family: Married with one child
Education: Degree in chiropractic medicine from Life University
Hometown: Providence, R.I.
Family: Divorced with two children
Education: Bachelor’s degree in business from University of Rhode Island
Career: Corporate trainer and contract speaker