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Sarasota County School Board is poised to vote on a Hillsdale College-linked consultant contract

A blonde woman chair speaks from a chair. A computer is in front of her.
Sarasota County Schools
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Draft documents show the consultant would report to Sarasota School Board chair Bridget Ziegler, one of the original cofounders of Moms For Liberty.

Tom Edwards, the sole moderate on the five-member board, has voiced his opposition to the deal. It's unclear where the other three members stand.

The Sarasota School Board is considering hiring a paid consultant linked to the conservative Hillsdale College in Michigan, a model that Gov. Ron DeSantis has already said he intends to recreate at New College of Florida in Sarasota.

Sarasota County School Board Chair Bridget Ziegler, who was endorsed by DeSantis in last year's election, brought up the relatively new company, Vermilion Education, at a workshop March 21.

"I wanted to bring it forward and propose it to the board. It's not, you know, I don't have a specific scope of work. I think it would be an opportunity for a consultant to —- and I don't particularly love the word ‘consultant’ because I just think of big money and that is not my goal — but really to have someone to help us with certain things when it comes to keeping us away from the fire," said Ziegler.

According to ABC Action News, Vermilion has only existed for a few months and is headed by Jordan Adams, a 31-year-old former civic education specialist at Hillsdale College.

A draft contract for consultant services posted online shows the firm would be allowed to sit in on interviews of teachers, review proposed curriculum and district policies, and “assist with board communication to the public,” for a fee of $4,820 dollars a month, on an ongoing basis until terminated.

A second draft contract for a district improvement study gives Vermilion access to a vast range of school policies, assignments, lesson plans and book lists, as well as collective bargaining agreements and the district’s strategic plan.

That document shows “TBD” under cost for a four-month duration, April 10-July 10 “or within 60 days of receiving the final materials… whichever is later.”

Opponents of the move to hire Vermilion are organizing a rally at 2 pm Tuesday outside the Sarasota School Board, ahead of the school board meeting which starts at 3 pm.

“The scope of the consulting work Vermilion spells out in its two proposed contracts is so broad and expansive, it in effect, turns over the keys to the school district to the company," said Carol Lerner, with the advocacy group Support Our Schools.

“These contracts, which are proposed without any competitive bidding process, list Ziegler as potentially the only point of contact, and could thereby circumvent the District’s Interim Superintendent and the rest of the Board,” she said, pointing out the company has “no track record.”

The Vermilion contract will also be discussed at a school board workshop at 9 am Tuesday, according to the district website.

I cover health and K-12 education – two topics that have overlapped a lot since the pandemic began.