Edward Challenges Robinson in Sarasota School Race

Todays News

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY FRESHLY SQUEEZED CONTENT EVERY MORNING THURSDAY JUL 23, 2020

Tom Edwards said he wants Eric Robinson off the Sarasota County School Board so personal conflict and internal strife don’t dominate meetings. But the incumbent said that problem went away with the resignation of former Superintendent of Schools Todd Bowden.

As Robinson seeks a second term on the board, his mission is convincing voters he’s not the sower of discord and prince of dark money his critics make his out to be. “People make wrong assumptions about me all the time,” he said. As he seeks another four years in office, Robinson feels optimistic a new superintendent will erase headlines of friction that dominated press accounts the past few years. Robinson also never voted in favor of a charter school establishment or merger, he said, but gets wrongly labeled an advocate for privatizing schools.

He’s focused these days on granting schools more autonomy. He touts successes like bringing Emma E. Booker Elementary from a D to a B school by allowing the school the chance to control its own curriculum more closely. He feels the same can be achieved at other schools.

Edwards said as the district brings in a new district executive, it’s a good time for fresh blood in two of five Board seats. Outgoing Board Member Carolyn Zucker will be replaced by one of the two candidates regardless. But Edwards hopes to take Robinson’s place as well be beating him in an Aug. 18 nonpartisan election.

“There’s a lot of emotions, a lot of hurt feelings and a lot of dysfunction as far as relationships between the School Board members, with unions and with the former Superintendent,” he said. “I bring a set of fresh eyes.”

Robinson knows many voters recognize his name mostly for disagreements with Bowden, but he said there hasn’t been a contentious 3-2 vote on the School Board since the district and the administrator parted ways. He early butted heads over sexual harassment charges against the superintendent which would go on to plague his tenure to the end. This side of the separation, Robinson feels vindicated, like the first official to see the threat Bowden posed the district.

Edwards notably feels Bowden should have been fired much sooner, and that frictions between Bowden and the district unions — and even parents of children enrolled — should have led the board to action. Edward feels that Robinson turning the matter into a conflict of personalities ultimately exacerbated the problems and extended Bowden’s stay. The petty infighting took too much attention away from more important tasks as well, he said.

A small business owner who ran a company in New York on 9/11, Edwards thinks such distractions left the school district unprepared for a disaster like COVID-19. While districts like Miami-Dade had virtual systems standing when students switched to distance learning, Edwards feels frustrated that even now, the district doesn’t yet have footing on that matter. “And we need to stand up to the Department of Education,” he said. “We are the No.2 performing district in the state. You’re not going to defund us. But we cannot reopen when our numbers are out of control, sending teachers and students into a super-spreader environment and then that all comes back to our community.”

Photos of Tom Edwards and Eric Robinson

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