LWV School Board Meeting Notes: 1/10/2023

League of Women Voters Manatee County
The League of Women Voters of Manatee County Education Issues Committee observes the School Board of Manatee County meetings for items of interest to citizens and to the League and notes adherence, or lack of adherence, to good governance procedures and the Sunshine Law. The League also provides feedback to school board members. The following are the major points from the Manatee School Board Meeting on 01/10/2023.


After calling the meeting to order at 10:00 a.m., Chair Choate read the district’s vision statement as printed in the district’s strategic plan.

Rev. Willie J. Holley, Pathways Christian Fellowship, provided the invocation followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.

The Board approved the amended agenda after Cindy Spray requested five of the thirteen Consent Agenda Items be added to New Business (Discussion Items Pulled from Consent). 

Mr. Tatem asked for clarification about prior items for information only. In regard to the financial reporting of Charter Schools, Superintendent Saunders indicated that after three reports of deficiencies, her team makes inquiries. High-performing Charters are required to report quarterly. In regard to the year-to-date financial statements and his notice that expenditures were greater than revenue, Superintendent Saunders explained that the revenue from funding sources, e.g. taxes, comes in across the year. Mr. Choate reminded everyone that this will be learned at the FSBA budget workshop.

Recognitions: Mr. Barber introduced Latrina Singleton, Federal Program and Grants Department Director who then recognized Megan Johnson, Coordinator Title I, for being named Florida’s National Program Administrator of the Year by the National Association of Federal Program Administrators. Ms. Johnson, a 25-year employee, will be recognized in Washington, D.C. in the spring. Mrs. Foreman offered her gratitude for the department’s proactivity in applying for and managing a variety of grants.

Lakewood Ranch Rotary Club was celebrated for receiving the Commissioner of Education’s Business Recognition Award for their Books for Kids Program. LWR Rotary President, Ted Lindenberg, described the club's success in distributing over 100,000 books to students and the participation of 65 of their members in the mentoring program meeting with students one time each week.  Books are distributed to 162 classrooms to 3700 children every month. Superintendent Saunders presented them with a Shining Star Award. Mr. Choate reminded the public of the many opportunities to volunteer.

Melissa Parker, District Communications Specialist, presented a recent addition to the Good News Moment page on the district’s website describing a retired school bus that now sits in the UK at the White Cliffs of Dover National Park as a renovated recreational vehicle for "glamping.” The video was edited by MSTV’s Adam McCune. [LWV note: See the story here.]

Public Comment. Chair Choate reminded an audience member who wanted to speak that commenters must sign up prior to the meeting. There were no public comments. 

Consent Items. The remaining eight items were approved 5-0.

New Business (Discussion Items Pulled from Consent)

The five consent items pulled by Ms. Spray for discussion were to apply, accept and expend ESSER grant funds for supplemental programming for summer, after school, and weekends, as well as instructional materials as prescribed by the grantor. The Superintendent and Latrina Singleton explained the purpose prescribed for each. All items were approved 5-0.

New Business (Non-Consent Items Recommended by the Superintendent)

Approval to Increase Spending Authorization for Education Staffing and Solutions Substitutes to Meet the New State Training Requirement for Mental Health Awareness and Assistance, in the Amount of $250,000. With the unfunded mandate by the state in 2018-19 that 80% of all employees with student contact be certified with five hours of face-to-face training by July 2023 or be cited with an audit finding, the Superintendent described the need for some individuals needing substitutes to complete the requirement. The training has been ongoing with staff being given stipends for taking the course on their own time as well as offered during teacher work days. But because staff leaves the district and new comes in, achieving 80% by the deadline will require substitutes for some teachers and bus drivers. Once the initial 5-hour in-person certification is complete, employees must have 1.5-hour virtual training after 3 years. Approved 5-0.

Approval of Walter E. Miller School Support Center – Renovation – Agreement Between Owner and Wharton-Smith, Inc. – Preconstruction Services, in the Amount of $84,168.00. After a lengthy discussion, both this item and the next were postponed until February 28, 2023, following the February 17, 2023 Workshop. Approved 5-0

Approval of Walter E. Miller School Support Center – Renovation – Agreement Between Owner and OCI Associates, Inc., in the Amount of $75,000.00.

The discussion of these two items included:

  • Mrs. Spray questioned if selling the current building and building in another location, e.g. Wakeland campus, would be a wise decision rather than renovating.
  • Superintendent Saunders and Mr. Renaldi, Construction Services, outlined the many variables that must be addressed to consider such a plan.
  • Mrs. Messenger reviewed the studies that went into the decision by a prior board to renovate the current building.
  • Staff will bring to the February 17 workshop estimates of the value of the current building and property and estimates of expenses to construct on the Wakeland property, as well as a description of the lengthy process to get approvals for such a venture.
  • Mrs. Messenger moved and it was seconded to postpone the vote on these two items until February 28. 

Approval of the Budget Amendments for November 2022 – added January 6, 2023. Superintendent Saunders introduced the district’s new CFO, Rachel Sellers, Deputy Superintendent of Business Services. Ms. Sellers reviewed the meaning of the column headers. Budget Director, Gina Maliniak, reviewed the amendments. Approved 5-0.

New Business (No Superintendent Recommendation)

Approval of Travel Expense Associated with the School Board Member’s Attendance at the Consortium of State School Boards Associations (COSSBA) Inaugural National Conference, March 30-April 2, 2023 at the Embassy Hilton, Tampa, FL. Not to Exceed $1,800. Mary Foreman will attend and in the spirit of transparency acknowledged that her sister from New Jersey will lead a breakout session. Approved 5-0.

Approval of Travel Expense Associated with the School Board Members’ Attendance at the Florida School Boards Association (FSBA) Certified Board Member School Finance Forum, February 8-10, 2023, at the Embassy Suites Orlando/Lake Buena Vista South, Florida. Not to Exceed $3,200.00. Board members Tatem, Spray, and Choate will attend. Approved 5-0.

Approval of Consulting Firm for Superintendent Search. Mrs. Messenger moved, and Mary

Foreman seconded that the superintendent and Attorney Dye enter into a contract with FSBA on behalf of the board not to exceed $60,000. Attorney Dye agreed to keep the board members informed of the process as it moves forward to satisfy Mrs. Messenger’s priority that this action needs to be known as a board action, not the Superintendent deciding who will be guiding the process to replace her. Approved 5-0.

Department Update

Legal. Attorney Dye provided board members with the opinion of Adams vs. St. Johns Florida School Board that resulted in requiring students to use facilities of their birth gender.

Operations. Deputy Superintendent, Doug Wagner announced two upcoming job fairs on Jan 19 for teachers and Jan 27 for operations and paraprofessionals; the successful close out of Well You; MTC student’s created a new website for Sarasota Sheriff’s Department; continuing with Safety and Security table top learning. 

Superintendent Remarks Superintendent Saunders announced Mr. Wagner will facilitate the Jan 13 workshop; January 10 is the first day for students and the beginning of the second semester; schools will close on January 14, Martin Luther King Day; all are encouraged to attend the Manatee County Fair on January 12-22.

School Board Member Comments:

Mrs. Messenger acknowledged the productive meeting and appreciated the diversity of backgrounds and thinking and reinforced attending the Manatee County Fair.

Mr. Tatem described a video conference of the CFPSB consortium regarding pilot for teachers identifying dyslexic students and state law for partnering with teacher colleges. Superintendent Saunders assured him both of these are being used within the district. He encouraged his fellow school board members to be educated before the meetings and acknowledged more information may need to be asked for at meetings. He suggested that when emails come to all of the board from constituents that the board member serving their district respond. A brief discussion followed about current practice, with Mrs. Messenger suggesting the discussion about a change of practice continue in a workshop. Mr. Tatem also indicated a need to strictly follow parliamentary procedures to stay organized.

Mrs. Foreman expressed happiness that the new Sugg Middle School facility is being used with the beginning of the semester. She attended the Manatee County’s ELMAC meeting last night. She thanked Mrs. Spray for thinking outside the box and reminding her that the briefings with the superintendent and staff are a great place to get answers. She reminded all that board members need to respect each other and staff’s time so need to get as much handled before the meeting as possible. She hopes that the Chair will describe how the advisory committee for the Superintendent search will be identified prior to the January 13 workshop. She acknowledged Bradenton Kiwanis’ 100th year and welcomed Mrs. Sellers, the new CFO.

Mrs. Spray expressed appreciation for everyone’s patience and that often her questions surface late at night prior to the meeting. She will continue to seek clarification for herself and others. She also indicated she didn’t know that the board meetings had a certain time limit.

Mr. Choate described how consent items come to be on the consent agenda, having been items that the board has previously taken action on. He indicated a lot of construction projects are like that. He reminded Mrs. Spray that she could have met with Superintendent and staff to answer her questions about the consent items she pulled. He doesn’t want to discourage questions when the public needs to know but suggests board members take opportunities to explain decisions to constituents through other venues. 



For the most part, Chairman Choate ran an efficient meeting. The discussion about alternatives to approving renovations of the Walter Miller Building could have benefited by directing board members to seek permission from the chair to speak. At times, Mrs. Spray was observed speaking over other board members and the Superintendent, and she appeared to not listen to others as she advocated for her point of view. In addition, as Mr. Tatem pointed out, it was difficult to track when motions were made and not seconded. If Chairman Choate had immediately stated Mrs. Spray's motion died for lack of a second and that only the original motion was up for consideration, this may have avoided Mr. Tatem's repeated comments about parliamentary procedure.

Mrs. Messenger brought clarity to the discussion about renovation vs selling/rebuilding which helped to bring the conversation to a productive close. Good governance requires listening carefully to each other. Although the discussion was observed to be chaotic and confusing, the final outcome seemed to please everyone and the next steps were clear. 

In addition, the discussion about needing more funds for substitutes to help meet the mandated goal of 80% of personnel with student contact certified with five hours of face-to-face mental health training was robust. Mrs. Spray’s characterization that this was an "11th-hour grasp” was observed as criticism without full understanding. The Superintendent provided a thorough explanation of the situation. Again Mrs. Messenger brought the issue to closure by reminding all of the costs of substitutes vs adding another day to the calendar. 

Mrs. Spray is observed to send conflicting messages when she, for the second time in a row, pulled items from the consent agenda saying she needs more information to make a decision, wants her constituents to know the answers, and appears to lack confidence in decisions made by past boards. Suggestions and admonishments by other board members were observed to be ignored.

Chairman Choate exercised his authority with respect when he cautioned that Mrs. Spray’s comments that were not limited to the topic and reminded members that it is not the purpose of the business meeting to learn about topics in detail. This should occur at briefings.  

An organized and effective New Board Member Orientation prior to the FSBA training process would assist in orienting new board members, reinforce the use of parliamentary procedures, and reduce the time spent during the business meeting to do this. This orientation could include basic school finance information, as well as an overview of projects/grants that are already board-approved, and expectations for preparation prior to board meetings. 

The Chair is reminded to request speakers to use the microphone at the podium. While the CFO was at the podium, the Budget Director, standing beside her, responded to questions from board members and her responses could not be heard by the audience. Mr. Tatem was observed to lean in as though he too was having trouble hearing the response. 

Reader Comments
JAN 21, 2023  •  Spray seems woefully unprepared and ignorant. If she wanted the job, she should have learned how to do it properly.
Patricia Catherine Benson
JAN 18, 2023  •  I think MRS. Spray should study Roberts Rules and come prepared to the School Board meetings.
David Daniels
JAN 18, 2023  •  Thank you to the LWV reporter for attending what sounds like a miserable and unnecessarily long meeting. All elected officials have a responsibility to be prepared and not waste people’s time. These kind of meetings discourage the people you have the privilege to represent from attending.