After years of coaching Lakewood Ranch baseball, Robert Moates now is stepping up to the plate himself.
The government and economics teacher has found a pitch he’s determined to drive home — right to the Manatee County School Board.
Moates last week announced he will run for the District 2 School Board seat, which has been held by incumbent Harry Kinnan since 1996 and will be up for re-election in November 2012.
“I’m not running for anything he’s done,” Moates said. “I’m running because I think I have something to offer.”
Born and raised in Manatee County, Moates attended and played baseball at Manatee Community College, now the State College of Florida, for two years before transferring to Florida State University.
A political science major, Moates interned at the Florida Legislature. His 60-day internship turned into a full-time job working on an election campaign and propelled Moates into a career in the public-service sector.
“It was an incredible education,” Moates said. “I learned more in those six months about the state of Florida than you could in any other profession. I learned about people and what’s important to them.”
During and after college, Moates worked on various political campaigns, worked as a legislative aide and even as a legislative analyst for the Rules, Ethics and Elections Committee in November 2000.
“I grew up kind of around (politics),” Moates said. “It’s more public service. I had this idea that to dedicate yourself to public service is a noble calling, and it always seemed right to me. I was in politics because I thought I could help.
“When I got tired of politics, I started teaching,” he said.
Eager to plant roots somewhere, Moates returned in January 2003 to Bradenton after years of being on the road. He applied to substitute teach, but quickly was offered an opening for a government and economics teacher at Lakewood Ranch High School.
“I didn’t go to school to become a teacher,” Moates said. “There’s the formation and function of government and how it operates. I just taught what I knew.”
He pulled from television campaign commercials, brochures and media to drive discussion and make his subjects come to life.
And, although Moates loves his job and the students with whom he works, as well as his role coaching the Ranch’s varsity baseball team, he says he’s ready for a change. As a teacher, he gets to impact 150 students each year, but as a member of the school board, he could impact more than 40,000 children.
“It’s kind of a belief I’ve always had,” Moates said. “At some point, a new generation needs to step up. We each have a responsibility to do what we feel we can best do for the community.”
Moates said the primary issues and concerns for his campaign include making the district accountable to taxpayers, both in the classroom and downtown, and putting every school district transaction online to make it open to the public for oversight.
State and county budgets are available for viewing line-by-line and the district’s budget should be no different, Moates said. He also wants to see the district move to a zero-based budgeting approach. Rather than hacking away at last year’s numbers, Moates said the district should start from the bottom up, prioritizing what must be funded first and moving forward until the money dries up.
“When you get to the finite amount of money (you have), you are done,” he said.
Moates also said the district has invested significantly in the creation of the district’s core curriculum, which spells out when and what educators teach. But the system, as is, is too restricttive for teachers.
“That really robs the individuality of our kids’ education,” Moates said.
Moates said his “ah-ha” moment came when a student in his class was using an iPhone to read the textbook she’d downloaded, and he had to take the phone away per school policy.
Organizations such as the Bill Gates Foundation are promoting successful alternatives, such as the Kahn Academy, a digital math-learning environment, to create more individualized instruction within classrooms.
Educators could better use technology to teach, reduce expenses and get more interest from students, Moates said.
“The idea is to make it a student-centered education,” Moates said. “Why can’t we use technology in ways that expand the classroom?”
Moates also said he wants to see the district set specific, measurable and achievable goals, such as achieving certain FCAT scores, rather than generalizations such as having students “take ownership” of their education, as well.
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].