SARASOTA — The often divided Sarasota County School Board has seemed to reach a consensus.
They’re uniting on saying it’s time for Superintendent Todd Bowden’s to leave his post and for the district to move forward.
Conversations about whether or not the superintendent would resign began soon after an investigative report revealed that he had failed to respond to sexual harassment allegations brought against former Chief Operating Officer Jeff Maultsby.
School Board member Eric Robinson, who has had a turbulent relationship with the superintendent, said a mutual separation agreement, made public Monday, was the best deal the board could offer Bowden, based on his contract with the school district.
“I think it’s the best we’re going to do,” Robinson said. “We just need to get past this and move on toward the future.”
Robinson had condemned Bowden during his Sept. 17 evaluation, because of the superintendent’s reaction to the sexual harassment against Maultsby. Bowden wanted to expand the scope of the investigation to include Cheraina Bonner, who had filed the complaint against Maultsby, her boss at the time.
Robinson stressed that Bowden had demonstrated that he did not believe Bonner’s story had weight. Despite his stark criticism, Bowden would still receive a top score on his evaluation.
Should the School Board approve the separation agreement at a Nov. 19 meeting, Bowden’s tenure with the district will end on Dec. 31. The board would then select an interim superintendent.
But the agreement states that Bowden would be placed on paid leave until the end of the year. Starting in January 2020, the district would pay him 20 weeks salary, and any leave time he is due, plus $65,523 in legal fees.
Robinson said the district had a lot of work ahead of itself, and suggested bringing back former superintendent Lori White on an interim basis, noting that it would help increase public confidence.
Faith in the district has been shaken by the notable tension between certain board members, in addition to the long list of controversies that have involved the superintendent.
Like Robinson, School Board member Bridget Ziegler has often been critical of the superintendent’s decisions, which would also be reflected in his evaluation.
Ziegler said there has been a “dark cloud” looming over the district, adding that the district “absolutely needs new leadership.”
“While there are some terms in the agreement that I don’t believe he is deserving of — because ultimately taxpayers have to foot that bill — I think it’s time to turn the next page,” she said.
Some community members may be concerned about the district’s future, but Ziegler noted that the superintendent’s departure from the district would be a step forward.
“Anytime you have a change in leadership, there’s a level of disruption,” she said. “But this is a necessary change.”
While Ziegler declined to say who she believes should take on the interim position, she noted that she was looking for a “strong, ethical and moral leader.” She stressed that there is a dire need for healing in the district.
School Board chairwoman Jane Goodwin and School Board vice chairwoman Caroline Zucker could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
School Board member Shirley Brown would defend Bowden at a contentious Nov. 5 meeting, where dozens of community members called for his resignation. But even she would support the separation agreement that requires the superintendent to step down at the end of this year.
“Our district needs to move forward, and I appreciate him for understanding that and helping us do that,” she said in a phone interview Monday evening.
But in order to move forward, Brown added, the frequent quarreling between board members has to cease.
“We need to think about the kids, and we need to think about the staff, and we need to move forward,” she said.