SARASOTA COUNTY — A Sarasota nonprofit has taken exception to the fact that several items on Tuesday’s Sarasota County School Board workshop agenda — including a discussion on the search for a new superintendent, for when Lori White retires in a couple years — will not take place during the televised portion of the meeting.
In a March 12 letter to School Board Chairman Frank Kovach and board members, Joe Hembree, president of the Argus Foundation, urges the board to honor “a commitment to discuss issues of significance at televised board meetings … and make sure our parents and taxpayers have access to these important discussions.”
According to its website, the Argus Foundation “is a group of Sarasota County area leaders who have come together in a creative nonpartisan effort to better facilitate communication, education and cooperation between the public and private sectors. Membership represents major economic, business and professional interests in the community and has established liaisons with city, county, state and federal governments in order to involve itself with the vital matters that have an impact on the quality of life in Sarasota County.”
The School Board has had several discussions about televising workshop items in past months. A portion of each monthly workshop takes place in board chambers and is televised live on the Education Channel. A second segment is held in conference room 315 and, while open to the public, is not televised. Only an audio recording is made of this portion of the meeting.
During a December workshop, Kovach — who said acquiring the audio “was a pain in the neck” — suggested the board tweak its agenda so anything that impacts policy be discussed during the televised morning segment of workshops held in board chambers.
“There is a good purpose for the less formal… discussions,” Kovach continued, “but we have to realize that it’s a whole lot harder to get a copy of that tape and figure out where (in the discussion certain items occurred) or what those issues are.
“Sometimes when we vote on something at the dais, we say we’ve workshopped it, but it’s not always where we can say the public can see us workshop it, because we did it in the (nontelevised) afternoon (workshop),” he said, also in December.
Hembree said, “The public should be able to have input on these issues and the only way that can be done is to make sure that all discussions are televised and accessible beyond a conference room and an audio recording which must be separately requested and paid for.”
He also took issue with the fact that the “very significant items”
— which, along with the search for White’s successor, also include agenda talking points on the emphasis for the Financial Advisory Committee for this year, Parent Liaison/Parent Advocacy, Enrollment Counts and “Other” items — also have no backup information, unlike items for the televised portion of the workshop, which include links on the school district website to additional facts.
“There is no description, recommendation or attachments available online to allow a member of the public to be put on proper notice or understand the discussion (of both issues),” Hembree said. “Please hold this meeting in the regular School Board meeting room and more importantly, televise and visually record these important discussions.”
In June 2012, White, who has held the superintendent post since 2006, announced her plans to retire in 2017. At the time, she said she chose 2017 because it would allow her to utilize the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Program, a system which allows individuals who have met certain requirements of retirement to basically retire on paper, but stay employed for a period not to exceed five years.
Up in Tallahassee this week to meet with legislators, Kovach said Friday afternoon that while he hadn’t seen the letter, he did have a discussion about it with Assistant Superintendent Scott Lempe. He said while it may come up under “Other” business during Tuesday’s workshop, he doesn’t feel alterations to the agenda are necessary, and that it’s too late to change the agenda now, anyway.
“I believe they are going to be really preliminary discussions,” he said. “My guess on the superintendent selection process is that it’s going to more of a timing discussion. I’m relatively sure we’re not going to have any discussion on the process, it’s going to be a discussion of ‘when do you even start (talking about it)?’ … If we have any meaningful conversations, it will happen in a televised workshop.”
The School Board workshop will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the school district offices, 1980 Landings Blvd., Sarasota.
By ANNE KLOCKENKEMPER STAFF WRITER