The Sarasota County School Board voted 3-1 to adopt a proposal aligning its district map with the districts of the Sarasota County Commission, amid questions from the public about the necessity of the proposal.
Karen Rose, Robyn Marinelli, and Tim Enos voted in favor of the proposal, while Chair Bridget Ziegler and Tom Edwards voted in dissent.
The proposal would change the areas that school board members represent, but would not impact students. Sarasota County Schools currently follows a format of at-large voting where school board members are elected on a countywide basis.
The discussions followed a board vote in August to hire a contractor at $39,000 to redraw the boundaries.
Several members of the public spoke at the meeting, demanding further explanation from the board for the proposal.
“Last month, Mrs. Rose became oddly passionate about redistricting our school board maps,” said Paulina Testerman. “To this day, this board has been unable to provide an ounce of evidence of the necessity to redistrict — not one shred of evidence; just opinions.”
She asked whether the proposal could be politically motivated to help a potential future school board candidate.
The stances of board members echoed their previous comments on Oct. 3.
“I will state what I stated all along,” said Edwards. "I found this to be fiscally irresponsible, I found it to be of no concern to academic achievement, reading scores, all of the things that we claim to be focused in on.”
He said there would be an additional cost due to billable legal hours involved.
Enos said he had been eyeing the change since he was a candidate for the school board.
“Usually they do know who their county commissioner is and what district they live in. I believe that it's also to the voters to be able to know who their school board member is, and that it will be consistent with them, as well as when we move forward, as the growth of the county dictates, that this will be done in the correct manner on the correct mapping, and provided to the supervisor of elections,” he said.
Ziegler said it was within the purview of the district to bring forward alternative maps and ensure compliance with requirements, but that she was somewhat indifferent to the proposal.
She said she wants to ensure the school district retains the current at-large districts, as opposed to a single-member system.
“I’ve seen that not be very beneficial for the operations of the district, for the students and families, for that they may get caught in political differences at the board level and that can actually cause certain areas to be disenfranchised,” she said.
The board also passed its 2024 legislative agenda through a unanimous vote, with Tom Edwards expressing reservations.
Components of the agenda included funding increases for various resources, increased state funding for Pre-K, full-day VPK for all students, an increase of $40 million to the safe schools component of the Florida Education Finance Program, reduced out-of-pocket costs for new hires, allowing public schools “the same leeway” granted to private charter schools, and $3 million for the farm at McIntosh Middle School.
Edwards said while the board had agreed to strike text related to CASEL, an organization centered on social-emotional learning, to await state guidance on the topic, he had not seen any such guidance, but also praised board’s other work on the agenda.
"I appreciate the opportunity to include on here that there is a need for clarification and guidance," said Ziegler. "It really isn't necessarily asking the board each to take a position on it, but merely that there is a need for clarity at the state level."