SARASOTA — Earlier this year, a major controversy ensued after Sarasota County Schools Superintendent Todd Bowden received a four-year contract extension that made it more difficult for the School Board to fire him. This week, he will be evaluated for his performance this past school year.
The divided School Board will discuss their evaluations at a meeting set for 3 p.m. Tuesday in the board chambers, 1980 Landings Blvd., Sarasota.
School Board members Eric Robinson and Bridget Ziegler voiced their concerns at a February meeting, during which Bowden’s new contract was approved. Ziegler noted that the contract’s super majority vote clause, which requires four board members to terminate the superintendent, “hijacks the will of voters.”
The board sets three goals for the superintendent’s performance, including a 1% increase overall on the Florida Standards Assessments, a 1% increase for the lowest quartile in English Language Arts, and a 1% increase for the lowest quartile in Math.
The superintendent is eligible to receive a $5,000 bonus for each goal met, for a total of $15,000.
Starting next year, the district will do away with the $15,000 bonus. Though, despite his performance, Bowden’s salary will continue to increase by $5,000 each year until his contract ends on June 30, 2023.
His base salary of $197,000 will rise to $222,000 in that final year.
Robinson and Ziegler both opposed the guaranteed salary increase, with Robinson noting that it prevents the board from holding the superintendent accountable.
“The evaluation is nuked,” Robinson said. “The evaluation means nothing. He gets all the money, regardless of how he performs.”
Unchecked power, Robinson added, lowers morale in the district.
“We have an employee that we cannot terminate, and he will get bonuses no matter what,” he said. “He is no longer answerable to the board. There’s no more oversight.”
School Board vice chairwoman Caroline Zucker disagreed, and said she believed the board could still demand accountability.
She added that the super majority vote was “more than adequate” due to divisiveness among the board. She stressed that there are some board members who would like to fire the superintendent without cause.
“Why would the superintendent go into a contract knowing that you want to fire him?” Zucker said. “Who wants to work under those conditions?”
During the February meeting, School Board chairwoman Jane Goodwin, who helped draft the contract, said her intention was “to protect the board and stabilize the superintendent in his position.”
Zucker pointed out that Bowden wouldn’t get the annual pay increases if he wasn’t doing a good job.
She said she was pleased with his performance this past year, and highlighted some of the district’s accomplishments, including the establishment of the internal police department and the additional funding acquired to expand the summer reading program.
“I just wish that our board would get along better, and that we wouldn’t have so much divisiveness because we have such a good school system,” Zucker said. “With all the negativity that comes out, you would think we have one of the worst school systems, and we don’t. We have one of the best.”