- January 23, 2020
School board members approved a four-year extension of Sarasota Public Schools Superintendent Todd Bowden’s contract at their Feb. 19 school board meeting.
The vote passed 3-2, with Bridget Ziegler and Eric Robinson voted against the extension.
Just getting to the split-decision vote itself was controversial, with Ziegler and Robinson questioning the issue's appearance before the board months before the deadline. In a Feb 14. Facebook post, she referred to the contract extension as “more school board shenanigans,” saying it had not been made public before its addition to the agenda.
“If someone has a copy of the contract, can you please share it,” Robinson wrote on social media.
The Board initially discussed the possibility of extending Bowden’s 2016 contract at its board retreat in January. The deadline for action on the deal was June 30.
The contract extension bumps Bowden's salary and adds a supermajority requirement to votes on his termination. Under the new agreement, four of five members would have to vote to fire him. Bowden also was up to receive a yearly incremental raise of about $5,000 a year. Thus, his current base salary, which is at $197,000, would be raised to $222,000 by the 2022-2023 academic year.
The new contract also includes an annual $12,500 annuity but eliminates his previous annual bonus of $15,000.
“Well, I guess, for me, I think the faster we finish this and complete this, the better off we’ll be,” board chair Jane Goodwin explained of her decision to add the contract to the agenda. “There’s too much reckless discussion in the community.”
Throughout both the workshop and the school board meeting, Goodwin reaffirmed her belief that Bowden was doing an “exceptional job.” Board members Caroline Zucker and Shirley Brown, who also voted to approve the contract, voiced similar sentiments.
The addition of the supermajority requirement brought its own level of rancor to the discussions. Robinson said it did not afford equal consideration to each board member.
Other members, such as Zucker, argued in favor of the supermajority so that Bowden could not "simply be fired on a whim."
Eventually, Bowden and the school board agreed to add a provision that specifies that, should there be a district-wide pay cut for staff members, Bowden would be subject to the same cut.
“This might be a good time to remind everybody that an agreement is between two parties. The purpose was to make this position less political,” Bowden interjected at the morning workshop as he rejected the opportunity of a bonus. “My preference would be certainty. In terms of annuity, I think the annuity is generous enough as is.”
In a closing comment before the vote, school board member Ziegler said she felt the way the issue played out “eroded the trust and faith” between the board and the community.
“I regret the way this has transpired, I think it was easily avoidable, quite frankly,” she said. "I have major concerns even for the superintendent to think this is an okay contract. While I know it affords well for [Bowden], I think it sends a bad message to the district."