News Section: Local Government
School Board Workshop on Changing Operating Manual Falls into Disarray
BRADENTON - Monday's workshop on proposed changes to the Manatee School Board's Operating Manual had promised strong debate before it started. But after the meeting began, the debate often boiled over with contention, as one board member's heated opposition to some of the suggested changes led to several altercations, culminating with another board member departing the discussion table in the middle of the meeting.
David Miner expressed disdain at some of the revisions, one of which he declared as both a violation of current school board rules and a deliberate attempt to weaken the authority of school board members while strengthening that of the superintendent.
That revision would place the superintendent in the middle of board members' requests for information from the district by allowing him to "determine if the information requested is available from existing sources or records or if it requires that a special, one-time-only report be developed" and that "In the event the request requires a special report that will divert staff time from established priorities, the Superintendent will notify the requestor and the Board Chair of this fact," a halting of the request that could only be broken by a majority vote at the next scheduled board meeting.
Superintendent Rick Mills advised that the purpose of the revision was to make the handling of such requests go more smoothly, noting that they can often burden district staff and resources. "I'm just asking, let us try to solve the problem first ... it's more efficient that way for us to address it," he said.
In regards to the allegation that the changes would enhance the power of the superintendent, Mills differed: "I challenge anybody to read this document to reach that conclusion."
Board member Robert Gause, disagreeing with Miner, argued the revision still ultimately allows for information requests to be decided by the board: "If I (make an information request), and the superintendent tells me no, then I still have the opportunity to go to the board."
Miner's arguments were met with not only staunch disagreement, but a showing of philosophical differences in how "united" a board should present itself, regardless of disagreements.
Speaking after some of Miner's arguments against the revision, Barbara Harvey said, "I'd like to note that we are supposedly a team," declaring that such debate was fragmenting the board and adding that she was elected to take care of the education needs of children, "not dusting the floor."
Harvey left the table after Miner implied that she was a "lapdog," expressing great offense: "I am not a dog," she said before getting up (editor's note: after publication, Miner noted that he did not call Harvey or any other member of the board a "lapdog" or any other name, and that stating "the people who voted for me did not elect me to be a lapdog," was meant only by way of explanaining his own position).
(Author's response: The reporter regrets penning the assertion that "Harvey left the table after Miner implied that she was a 'lapdog'" in this article. To clarify what transpired: the statement Mr. Miner gave that immediately preceded Mrs. Harvey's retort expressing offense was, "I'm not gonna be a lapdog, and I'm not gonna go along with lapdogs, Mrs. Harvey." Mr. Miner's quote that "the people who voted for me did not elect me to be a lapdog," was said prior to that statement.)
Miner, in defending his own comments during the meeting while also expressing opposition to two proposed rules which suggested that only authorized district spokespersons speak with the media in some cases, and that individual board members "shall refrain from expressing individual opinions," (both were stricken from the draft after further discussion during the workshop) said that board members "should be free to express their conscience."
"There's implication in here that if you don't agree with something the board has done, you're supposed to shut up," he said at one point.
Citizens attending the meeting also expressed grievances. Local activist Linda Neely stated that not allowing the public to speak at the workshop was against state law, referencing Florida statue 286.0114. Manatee resident and activist Glen Gibalena complained during a recess about the venue (at the METV Studios on 63rd Avenue East) and early time selected for the workshop, saying such that a citizen riding public transit would find it difficult to attend (board members and district staff did note that the workshop was available on television).
Discussion on the drafted document had to be cut short as time had run out before all proposed revisions could be commented on; discussion will be completed at a future workshop before the draft is brought to a public hearing at a regular meeting.
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