News Section: Politics
School Board Candidate Cantrell Emphasizes Reaching Out to Students, Teachers
BRADENTON – "I feel like some things in the district aren't going the way they should be," said Manatee School Board candidate Mary Cantrell, who was in Tennessee with her daughter when she took time out to speak with TBT about her recently-announced campaign. "If you think you can help change something that you're not happy with, then you should step up to the plate," she added.
Cantrell is running for the seat currently held by Julie Aranibar. Before announcing her candidacy last week, she served as executive director of Manatee Technical Institute until the end of this school year, when the school district decided to not renew her contract in what was described as a cost-cutting measure.
The candidate touched on some of the things she says she isn't happy about in the district -- namely doing things to raise morale among both students and teachers, and other staff.
"I think all children should have the ability to succeed," she said.
Cantrell also talked about focusing on student achievement as a way to bolster their interest in education.
"Kids have different reasons that excite them about coming to school. Some might be excited because they're honor students; some may be excited because they know they're going to be able to use their hands," she says.
She also talked about what she believes to be job insecurity and low morale among teachers.
"I don't think they're in the best situation right now," said Cantrell. "I would like to listen to them and ask what they want to happen, and what could make things better - and be a part of that process."
Cantrell's tenure as director of MTI dates back to 1996 and she's been credited with greatly expanding enrollment at the student/adult technical school, though she drew fire in 2009 when she utilized a loophole to reap hundreds of thousands of dollars from the state's DROP program by "double-dipping."
Cantrell had enrolled in the state's Deferred Retirement Option Program in 2004, which essentially allows employees to officially retire, while working an additional five years. During that period, their monthly pension benefit accrues, and is then given to them in a lump sum at the end.
Until 2010, a loophole allowed the “retired” employee to be rehired at their old job, provided they have a 30-day period in which they stop working. Cantrell was one of thousands of Floridians to utilize the loophole before it was closed the next year, when the “retirement” period was extended to six months.
Only Cantrell didn't actually retire. Instead, she continued to run MTI as a volunteer until former Superintendent Tim McGonegal hired her back, leading critics to suggest she'd violated the loophole, which allowed her to pocket a $260,000 lump sum payout and begin receiving $4,000 a month in “retirement” benefits in addition to her $108,000 salary.
Cantrell faces Julie Aranibar and Les Nichols in a three-person, non-partisan race on the August primary ballot. If no candidate gets a majority of the votes, the top two vote-getters will compete in a runoff election on the November ballot.
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