Defending Education v. Expanding School Choice

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Whether allowing more private providers of education should be something encouraged by public school officials or a shift that school districts should defend against has become the crucial question at stake in one Sarasota School Board race. Incumbent School Board member Bridget Ziegler, a founding member of the Florida Coalition of School Board Members, faces Nick Guy, a former teacher now working in the IT field.

“I’ve always been clear about advocating for providing families and students with choices,” Ziegler says. When the Sarasota School Board in May rejected an application for Pinecrest Charter School to open in the county, Ziegler cast the only opposing vote, and she remains a staunch supporter of certain voucher programs as well, and says when students opt to leave public schools not meeting their needs, the state funding for the child’s education should follow them to a new school.

Guy, in contrast, sees various mandates from the state calling for more funding to get funneled into charter institutions as detrimental to public education. “The advocacy of the privatization of public education has one purpose, and that’s to damage public education,” says the challenger. As the Florida Legislature continues to issue edicts in that direction, he believes the local school board should work to “mitigate the damage to the district and the community you represent." He specifically called into question Ziegler’s judgment on the Pinecrest vote, and says he wants a representative fighting for the schools instead of for a contrary political agenda.

Ziegler, though, says she represents community stakeholders, not a political movement or a government’s internal interests. “I look at what’s in the best interest of the child and individual students, not the interest of the school system,” she says.

As school safety become a chief issue in every school board race, Sarasota’s actions in creating its own force of police to protect schools has become a key point in the contest as well. Both Ziegler and Guy have small children and say the security of schools is a personal high priority. And both say ideally the districts would be working with the Sheriff’s Office. “In a perfect world, the sheriff would be cooperating with the schools and the schools cooperating with law enforcement,” Guy says, but he understands why the district would go the direction it has. Ziegler has stressed significant concerns with launching their own police. “At this point, the goal is we do it correctly and have an idea what we are getting into,” she says. Ziegler says she’s also been pushing for hardening of schools and better entrance management since well before Parkland shooting in February.

Since being named School Board chair this year, Ziegler says some of her most important accomplishments were apolitical, like making sure consent agendas had more thorough backup material, and ensuring board workshops took place in chamber so they were videotaped.

Guy says he would importantly bring the perspective of a teacher, having been in the classroom two years before being drawn from the profession by better wages and benefits. As an IT professional with executive experience and a former teacher, he says he has a stronger resume to serve on the board.

All Sarasota County voters may vote in the Aug. 28 nonpartisan election for Sarasota School Board District 1. 

Pictured: Bridget Ziegler, Nick Guy

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