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Sarasota School Board pays consultant to weigh redistricting

Written by on Thursday, September 21, 2023

The proponent has a hard time explaining why.

By Ramon Lopez

Original Air Date: Sept. 20, 2023

 

Host: The Sarasota School Board voted Tuesday to spend money on a consultant to ponder redistricting – just two years after going through that same exercise. Supporters of one candidate fear she may end up being districted out, and none of the public speakers supported this. Ramon Lopez has the story.

Ramon Lopez: With one member dissenting, the Sarasota School Board on Tuesday night voted to approve a $39,000 contract with Kurt Spritzer and Associates. The consulting firm will advise the School Board on a possible redistricting effort.

This comes just two years after the school board redrew the boundaries for the areas represented by the panel’s five members.

The consultant will present its findings to the board early next month. The school board could then vote on a redistricting at the scheduled Oct. 17 board meeting.

Board member Tom Edwards cast the lone ‘nay’ vote, at the board meeting held at Venice High. But he said he is keeping an open mind for redistricting. Edwards explains his thinking, and his dissent.

Tom Edwards: I tried every which way to be a team player and figure out why this is a good idea. And so far, I still can’t come up with anything that makes any sense. When you bring to me the conversations that we had today about our legislative agenda, and now you’re asking for very real dollars that run this school district, … I just feel that spending $39,000 is irresponsible … I will not be supporting it for that reason. 

R.L.: Numerous residents spoke out against the remapping effort, saying that it would keep Liz Barker, a candidate running to replace School Board Vice Chairwoman Karen Rose, out of the District 2 race. Rose is seeking re-election in the August 2024 primary election. Paulina Testerman supports Barker’s run for the school board.

Sarasota School Board map with existing boundaries.

Paulina Testerman: On Friday, Aug. 11 the school board was informed that Liz Barker planned to run against school board member Karen Rose in District Two. Four short days later, during a workshop. School Board Member Karen Rose curiously announced her desire to redistrict the county and replace our current district maps with the county commissioners’ district maps. Many of us didn’t think much of it, until we printed the maps and plotted each school board member’s home on it. Instantly, we knew that Mrs. Rose was not looking to redraw the maps for legitimate reasons. It’s important that our community know that our school district maps are to be redrawn every 10 years to ensure equal representation in each district. The last time we redrew the maps was 2021. During the Dec. 7 school board meeting [that year], the board voted unanimously to adopt the new maps. That means that Mrs. Ziegler, Mr. Edwards and Mrs. Rose all voted to adopt these current district maps. Now, less than two years later, Mrs. Rose wants to reinvent the wheel and waste $39,000 of our tax dollars so she can remove her competition.

R.L.: Carol Lerner agreed.

Carol Lerner: A principled leader would not put forward this redistricting proposal. Rose circumvented the democratic process by initiating steps to change the school board district maps. This would throw Mrs. Rose’s announced competitor Liz Barker into an adjoining district that is not up for an election until 2026. It would also move Rose’s primary home on Siesta Key into District Two, so she would no longer have to pretend that she was living in a condo purchased just so she could run for the District Two seat in 2020.

Karen Rose

R.L.: But Patrick Duggan, the board’s attorney, made it clear that Florida statute protects Liz Barker’s run for the District 2 school board seat.

Patrick Duggan: In one of the districts, there’s two candidates. There’s the incumbent, of course, and then a filed candidate. My advice would be to any redrawing of boundaries that you do include her. I think that there would be an argument that if we drew a boundary without her in it, that that would violate the statute. 

R.L.: Meanwhile, Karen Rose did not comment on allegations about her true residency. She said redistricting yet again is justified. And Rose said she is a law-abiding citizen.

Liz Barker

Karen Rose: The districts were not done correctly when they were done the last time. They were not done using the GIS tool. They were done using borders and land descriptions, and there are several precincts that are split. There was a lot of difficulty in my understanding and articulation with the Supervisor of Elections Office, that it did not fit into the precincts and the pieces. If you look at the school board map, there are several splits in precincts. We’ve had significant growth in South County. We’ve had significant growth in East County. There was recent legislation passed that is requiring some of that to be adjusted. There is no intent, no action to remove any candidate

R.L.: Liz Barker attended the school board meeting. She thanked her supporters, and then discussed the need to support teachers. She spoke briefly to WSLR News after the meeting adjourned.

Liz Barker: I think it’s a distraction and a waste of time. We’ve now spent an entire evening talking about redistricting, when we could have been talking about teacher pay. We spent a great deal of time with much ado about nothing.

R.L.: Meanwhile, the Sarasota County School Board adopted a $1.5 billion budget at a special meeting Monday. The board voted 4 to 1 to approve the budget and tax rate, with only Chairwoman Bridget Ziegler in dissent. The 2023-24 budget increased by $332 million, mainly due to construction of two new schools.

This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.

WSLR News aims to keep the local community informed with our 1/2 hour local news show, quarterly newspaper and social media feeds. The local news broadcast airs on Wednesdays and Fridays at 6pm.