Sarasota Herald-Tribune | By Ryan McKinnon | January 13, 2022
School board elections across the country have taken on increasing importance in the age of COVID, as families realize that the elected officials with the most sway over their lives may be those near the bottom of the ballot, in the races for the officials who oversee local public schools.
The Sarasota County School Board has three spots up for election in the August primary that have already attracted seven candidates, and once again the overall trajectory of the board is at stake, with candidates sending signals to conservative or liberal voters that they will represent their interests.
In races with three or more contenders, a candidate who wins more than 50% in the primary will win the August election. If none top the 50% threshold, the top two vote-getters will advance to a general election in November.
Current board members Shirley Brown (District 4) and Jane Goodwin (District 5), who have served on the board since 2006 and 2010, respectively, have announced that they will not seek another term. Both have supported mask mandates and opposed Gov. Ron DeSantis’ moves to prevent schools from teaching about critical race theory.
Board member Bridget Ziegler, a frequent opponent of Brown’s and Goodwin’s stances, announced last year that she will seek her third term on the board representing District 1.
Ziegler lone candidate for District 1
Ziegler has been an outspoken conservative since first winning her seat in 2014, pushing back against what she says is an increasingly progressive education agenda that is alienating parents.
No challengers have filed to run against her at this point. Ziegler has raised $13,444 for the race.
Former administrators vie for District 4
Brown’s District 4 seat has two hopefuls who have already filed.
Lauren Kurnov has worked in administrative roles for both the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee and New College of Florida, and earned her doctorate of education from USF in 2021.
Her campaign website says she is “committed to running a positive, no-nonsense campaign that focuses solely on the success of our schools, not on fighting a proxy battle in a culture war,” and she pulls from her experience in higher education to emphasize the need to connect students to career opportunities.
Former Sarasota County Schools administrator Robyn Marinelli has the endorsement of the Republican Party of Sarasota. Marinelli worked for the school district for 35 years before retiring in 2015.
She said she began pondering a run for office during former Superintendent Todd Bowden’s tenure, which included a sexual harassment allegation against a top administrator and deep division on the board. She said she saw how “parents were not being listened to and how women were being treated” and was motivated to seek a spot at the table.
Goodwin’s seat attracts hopefuls
Current board chairwoman Jane Goodwin is retiring at the end of year as well, and her District 5 seat has already attracted four aspiring board members.
Sandra Jimenez, a relative newcomer to Sarasota, ran for state representative in Minnesota in 2020, at the same time her husband was running for a seat in the state Senate. Both lost those elections, and they moved to Sarasota shortly thereafter.
Jimenez has made parental rights and a return to academic basics her top issues. On her website, she said that raising children in Minnesota taught her how to fight indoctrination and that “all her children have escaped being brainwashed.”
Nora Cietek, a former principal from upstate New York, spent 30 years working as a special education teacher, assistant principal, principal and the assistant director of special education for the Schenectady New York Public School System.
She has received the endorsement of Goodwin and is pledging to heed the advice of public health officials and has also prioritized keeping national political debates out of School Board decisionmaking.
Gregory Wood, a rowing coach and small business owner, is running as part of the parental rights movement that has opposed mandatory masking in schools and called for parents to have greater say in school curriculum.
Wood’s website also identifies classical education as one of his top priorities. Classical education emphasizes more traditional modes of teaching and encourages the use of great works of literature.
Chris Kruysman had previously registered to run for the seat, and received the early endorsement of the Republican Party of Sarasota County. But Kruysman dropped out of the race last year.
Local Republican Chairman Jack Brill said the party would not be endorsing one of the remaining candidates and would allow the primary to play out.
School Board races are officially nonpartisan, although Sen. Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican who is chairman of the state GOP, has filed legislation that would let voters decide later this year if school board races should be partisan.