BRADENTON – In the District 5 school board race, a crowded field of three challengers are seeking the seat currently occupied by board chair Julie Aranibar in an election that could have profound impacts on both the board and the school district it governs.
Julie Aranibar was elected to the seat in 2010. Riding a waive of populist frustration, the first-time candidate managed to score a major upset over incumbent Jane Pfeilsticker, who was a close ally to then superintendent Tim McGonegal.
Aranibar immediately made a name for herself as a board member who wasn't afraid to go against the grain. Having spent the eight years prior as a citizen volunteer for the district, most notably on the sales tax committee, Aranibar had a good feel for the numbers and wasn't happy with the direction the district seemed headed, nor did she trust all of the data being reported.
Once on the board, Aranibar and fellow newcomer Karen Carpenter began asking tough questions about the district's finances and was it not for their persistence, it is unlikely that this community would have discovered the tens of millions in shell games that the previous administration had been covering up until much later and after more damage was done.
During the next two years, Aranibar helped to steer a devastated district, providing critical leadership through a prolonged period of rebuilding that saw the district employ no less than three interim superintendents before hiring Rick Mills in 2013.
Aranibar was one of three commissioners who voted to hire Mills (along with Carpenter and Bob Gause) and has given the superintendent strong support. Ousting Aranibar would be seen as the removal of a major obstacle, by those who want to see Mills replaced.
|Dr. Mary Cantrell|
Dr. Mary Cantrell was the Director of Manatee Technical Institute from December of 1996 until the district non-renewed her in June of this year, a decision she says was an influential factor in her decision to run.
Cantrell entered the race late and hasn't managed to communicate a well-defined platform. She's leaning heavily on her education credentials, which are considerable. She holds a B.S. in Education from the University of North Texas; an M.S. in Administration and Supervision from the USF and a Ph.D. in Vocational Curriculum, also from USF.
In addition to her time at MTI, Cantrell's 48 years in public education includes stints as a teacher of English, Social Studies and Business Tech at the junior high, middle school, high school and post-secondary levels; an administrator at the high school, post-secondary and district level, as well as another post as director of a technical institute.
Cantrell often notes MTI's dominance in competitions like SkillsUSA, however, critics have pointed out that such claims are inflated, as the district typically spent many times that of other schools, sending many more students to compete, some of whom won “state” and “national” titles in which no one else competed.
There's no question that the district made an enormous investment in MTI and can claim a state of the art technical college that is an asset for the community as both a first-rate vocational school for our high school students and an adult education center. However, how Cantrell's role there would translate into effective board governance hasn't been made clear in her campaign. Cantrell has also gathered criticism for living and being homesteaded in Pinellas County, rather than her district here.
The Reverend James Golden is making his second run at the school board after failing in bids for the county commission in 2012 and Congress in 2010. The former Bradenton City Council member has mostly pointed out areas of academic shortcomings in the district, but like Cantrell, has not been effective in offering details of how he would be a better school board member than Aranibar. A recent METV debate between the three seemed instructive (click to watch).
While Aranibar was able to speak at length and in detail about each facet of the district discussed – both in past and present – Golden and Cantrell stuck to generic bullet points about lagging student performance, buoyed by equally generic platitudes on what needed to be done to improve the district. Considering the credibility Aranibar has built in helping to bring down the financial sham the previous administration was running, voters are likely to ask for more than that in considering a replacement.
Carlton “Les” Nichols was unable to make the televised debate, which is unfortunate, because he's an interesting candidate on paper, who has not been able to build much awareness as to what he's campaigning for. A former Planning and Zoning commissioner, Tourist Development Committee member and Chamber of Commerce member in Santa Rosa, FL, Nichols has effectively positioned himself as the outsider candidate, seeming to offer voters a chance to check the block for someone with no ties whatsoever to either new or old.
While you get the sense that Nichols is both genuine and capable, he nonetheless has brought forth little in the way of specifics as to how he would change the district. Considering the improvements that have been made academically over the last two years, even as the district has executed a $20 million turnaround to rebuild its beleaguered financial status, it's going to be hard to ask voters to support someone who can't claim to have had a vital role in that success. Aranibar is the only candidate who doesn't have to do that.
Friday: Race Analysis: Manatee County School Board District 2 - Kennedy v. Jones
Saturday: Race Analysis: Manatee County School Board District 4 - Carpenter v. Brunner