Seeking to remain nonpartisan, the Town Commission on Monday chose not to take sides in the ongoing negotiations between the Sarasota County School Board and Superintendent Brennan Asplen over terms of his potential separation.
Initially, Town Commissioners toyed with the idea of making a stance known in hopes of ensuring nonpartisanship in the future, and vouching for the success of the students the the town does send to the district.
In the end, though, they settled on staying out of the fray.
“I don’t think there is much that can actually be done at this point,” Mayor Ken Schnier said. “I think that ship has sailed, but it may not have.”
Whether or not to take sides in the issues of another board was a key point of discussion Monday.
“It feels like we are dipping into the partisan, nonpartisan area,” Commissioner Mike Haycock said. “The town has been so careful about keeping this committee nonpartisan. That is a very partisan issue going on. … To take a stance as a commission, I would be against.”
Commissioner Sherry Dominick raised the idea that showing support in some way could be characterized as supporting the views of the teachers who are gathering in support of Asplen.
“We don’t have people tell us how we hire or fire our town manager,” Vice Mayor Maureen Merrigan said. “These folks were voted in, good or bad, whether we agree or disagree.”
Instead of taking a direct stance on the issue, she opted to consider asking the board to always consider performance and metrics when making a decision of this nature as the barrier island does pay large sums of money in taxes to the district.
In August elections, town voters supported a slate of school board candidates who ultimately lost to newcomers Tim Enos, Robyn Marinelli and incumbent Bridget Ziegler.
Schneier wrote an email to the board with his position as an individual Dec. 2.
“I have been the Mayor of Longboat Key for three years, and though my children are long grown, I am an avid supporter of our schools…At this week's Conference of the Florida League of Mayors and Florida League of Cities Advocacy Group in Orlando, I spoke to a number of representatives of our Sarasota County local governments who all wished they had had the opportunity to try to avoid the likely damage that Mr. Asplen's discharge, however described, might cause to the quality system we have. Couldn't the new Board try to work with him to enact the changes they feel necessary and which the voters endorsed by your election? It's too bad that it's too late.
When I saw this afternoon that an agreement on Mr. Asplen's severance had not yet been reached, I felt the need to grasp this straw and just ask if you and he could reroute your negotiations toward an agreement to work together, if only on a limited trial basis, to see if a path forward can be found to accommodate your passion for our students and his. Please try. You would all be heroes.”
Prior to the Nov. 29 meeting at which school board members voted 4-1 to proceed with negotiations with Asplen to facilitate his departure, board member Karen Rose told the Longboat Observer some of her reasons to initiate the process a week earlier.
“My sole goal was to initiate a process for how we are going to bring unity back to the district. … There has been a strong, consistent voice for change in the district going back to COVID..And I’ve tried for change on the dais and in one-on-ones, but I don’t see it.”
Her motion to consider the termination of Asplen was met with a 4-1 vote. Tom Edwards was the only board member who voted against such action.
Following the Nov. 29 meeting, a follow up meeting on Friday, Dec. 2 was tentatively set, but that day announced the meeting had been set aside.
A poll of Sarasota County Teachers Association members drew more than 2,000 responses in two days, the union said in an email to members. Of those responses, 97% “wanted the school board to do everything in their power to retain Superintendent Asplen.’’
“The decision made on Tuesday will completely disrupt our school district and may have ramifications that will last for years,’’ wrote Barry Dubin, the SC/TA’s executive director. “What high quality Sarasota-quality, if that term still has any meaning, superintendent would come here to work under these conditions? Will we just get applicants who have no other choices?”