© 2024 All Rights reserved WUSF
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Sarasota says no to bringing in a Hillsdale College-linked consultant

Bridget Ziegler at the dais at the meeting, with flowers on either side
SCREENSHOT: SCS
Bridget Ziegler, one of the original co-founders of the parents' right advocacy group Moms for Liberty, brought forward Vermilion as a consultancy option for the Sarasota County School Board in late March.

The Sarasota School Board voted 3-2 against paying $28,000 for Vermilion Education to examine a range of district policies.

The Sarasota County School Board voted Tuesday night against hiring a consultant linked to a conservative Christian college in Michigan.

The notion of paying $28,000 for Vermilion Education to examine a range of district policies was voted down, 3-2.

Board member Tim Enos, who voted against the proposal, said the company had no track record.

"I think in-house for me ultimately is where all these things need to stay," Enos said.

Enos voted no along with board members Tom Edwards and Robyn Marinelli. In favor were board chair Bridget Ziegler and Karen Rose.

The proposal drew a swell of public opposition before the vote.

Around 70 speakers told the school board Tuesday night to say no to the deal, put forth by Ziegler. Fewer than five speakers approved of it.

Ziegler, one of the original co-founders of the parents' right advocacy group Moms for Liberty, brought forward Vermilion as a consultancy option for the Sarasota County School Board in late March.

The consultant, Jordan Adams, is a 31-year-old former civic education specialist at Hillsdale College.

An initial draft contract for consultant services posted online shows the firm would have been 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 a month, on an ongoing basis until terminated. That proposal was withdrawn before Tusday's meeting.

A second draft contract for a district improvement study would have given 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.

The idea of bringing in Vermilion as a consultant came despite Sarasota being ranked as an "A" rated school district for years, ranking in the top five statewide.

But major changes began after a new conservative majority won election to the five-member school board in August.

The board forced out its highly rated superintendent, Brennan Asplen, in December 2022, and offered him a severance package of $170,000 plus moving expenses.

Then, despite hearing teachers and students praise a program called “Character Strong," the school board canceled it after Ziegler called it a “distraction” and said evidence was lacking that it would improve student behavior.

Ziegler, who was endorsed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in her school board run, has also recently been appointed by DeSantis to the new Central Florida Tourism Oversight District that oversees Disney, as well as to the New College of Florida Presidential Search Committee.

DeSantis has said he wants to mimic Hillsdale's classical approach at New College of Florida in Sarasota.

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