School board hope­fuls have dif­fer­ent back­grounds, styles

The Bradenton Herald (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY GIUSEPPE SABELLA

Two can­di­dates, each dif­fer­ent in their back­grounds and lead­er­ship styles, are com­pet­ing for the only con­tested spot on Manatee County’s school board.

Dis­trict 4 in­cum­bent Scott Hopes feels his back­ground in busi­ness and pol­i­tics is a cru­cial as­set to the board. With the up­com­ing de­par­ture of John Colon, a Wells Fargo ex­ec­u­tive who pre­vi­ously worked on Wall Street, the board will in­clude two at­tor­neys (James Golden and Dave Miner), along with two ed­u­ca­tors (Char­lie Kennedy and Gina Mes­sen­ger).

“I was an ed­u­ca­tor, a re­searcher, but I’ve been in busi­ness for prob­a­bly 35 years,” Hopes said. “When I make de­ci­sions on the board, I’m able to draw on that ex­pe­ri­ence.”

His com­peti­tor, Joe Stokes, is a life­long ed­u­ca­tor and school ad­min­is­tra­tor who em­pha­sizes skill sets — pri­mar­ily team­work and com­mu­ni­ca­tion — rather than in­di­vid­ual back­grounds.

“I don’t dis­credit hav­ing busi­ness peo­ple at the school board, but some­times you do and some­times you don’t,” Stokes said. “The vot­ers get to de­cide,

and I trust that more than any­thing else.”

Early vot­ing runs through Nov. 3, and the gen­eral elec­tion takes place on Nov. 6. Stokes de­feated Hopes by ap­prox­i­mately 8 per­cent­age points (5,565 votes) in the pri­mary elec­tion, but nei­ther re­ceived more than 50 per­cent of the vote, lead­ing to the cur­rent runoff.

WHO IS SCOTT HOPES?

Ac­cord­ing to Hopes, the school board doesn’t need a third ed­u­ca­tor.

Hopes co-founded Health­care Man­age­ment De­ci­sions, a con­sult­ing group, in the late 1980s. He said the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s sec­ond client was Rick Scott, Florida’s cur­rent gover­nor and its Repub­li­can can­di­date for the

U.S. Se­nate.

In 2013, Gov. Scott ap­pointed Hopes to the Univer­sity of South Florida Board of Trustees, which al­lowed him to serve on the board’s Fi­nance Com­mit­tee and its Strate­gic Ini­tia­tives Com­mit­tee.

“You’re talk­ing about an or­ga­ni­za­tion that has a $2.1 bil­lion a year bud­get in ed­u­ca­tion and re­search, thou­sands of em­ploy­ees and ed­u­ca­tors, much like the school dis­trict, and has the same num­ber of stu­dents,” Hopes said.

Scott then ap­pointed Hopes to the School Board of Manatee County in July 2017, fill­ing a seat left va­cant by Karen Car­pen­ter’s res­ig­na­tion. The board elected Hopes as chair­man about four months later.

He also serves as the chair­man and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Clin­iLinc, a health and med­i­cal tech­nol­ogy com­pany he co­founded.

Hopes, a reg­is­tered lob­by­ist for more than two decades, said he knows how to spot bad con­tracts, man­age large bud­gets and forge new re­la­tion­ships.

“I’ve learned those hard lessons, and that’s why I knew what ques­tions to ask and what to look for,” he said.

Hopes also un­der­scored his teach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. He taught sci­ence in Hills­bor­ough County dur­ing 1984, and he over­saw four de­part­ments at McLane Ju­nior High School, in Bran­don, about one year later.

“And I even taught a grad­u­ate course at USF a cou­ple weeks ago,” he said.

At­tempt­ing to high­light his abil­i­ties, Hopes point- ed to rev­e­la­tions about the dis­trict’s trou­bled soft­ware project, which jumped from a cost of less than $10 mil­lion to well over $20 mil­lion.

Hopes has worked with Su­per­in­ten­dent Cyn­thia Saun­ders to ad­dress pos­si­ble wrong­do­ings and to ne­go­ti­ate with the soft­ware ven­dor.

In Au­gust, the dis­trict re­leased a vague state­ment af­ter plac­ing a deputy su­per­in­ten­dent on ad­min­is­tra­tive leave. Hopes soon re­leased his own state­ment, ex­pand­ing on the dis­trict’s ac­tion against Ron Ci­ranna, who has since filed for re­tire­ment.

“Ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions, while they may teach com­mu­ni­ca­tions, they’re of­ten times poor at com­mu­ni­cat­ing,” he said.

WHO IS JOE STOKES?

Stokes, an ed­u­ca­tor for 45 years, is equipped with knowl­edge from both the school and dis­trict level.

His ca­reer started in Mun­cie, Ind., and the ma­jor­ity of his first 17 years was spent teach­ing in Ti­tle I schools. Stokes, who re­ceived an ed­u­ca­tor of the year award, went on to be­come a prin­ci­pal in three el­e­men­tary schools be­fore he moved to Florida.

Stokes was well re­ceived in Manatee County. He joined Martha B. King Mid­dle School in 2004, and a par­ent ex­pressed her grat­i­tude in a let­ter dated Oct. 26, 2005.

The mother felt her daugh­ter was un­fairly dis­ci­plined, and Stokes soon can­celed the girl’s de­ten­tion. The mother com­mended Stokes and his as­sis­tant prin­ci­pal for their quick ac­tion.

“The thought­ful­ness and the wis­dom that was shown in rec­ti­fy­ing quandary will not be for­got­ten,” she wrote. “By be­ing fair and un­der­stand­ing they taught more than they will ever know.”

Stokes was no stranger to praise, ac­cord­ing to his per­son­nel file. His su­per­vi­sor, An­gela Es­sig, high­lighted the prin­ci­pal’s work in a 2008 eval­u­a­tion.

“Joe Stokes is one of our dis­trict’s most out­stand­ing prin­ci­pals,” she wrote.

“He re­lates ex­cep­tion­ally well to par­ents and the com­mu­nity, and is a man of vi­sion and pur­pose.”

Stokes’ cam­paign state­ments are nearly iden­ti­cal to the self eval­u­a­tions in his dis­trict file. In Oc­to­ber 2007, he said data was im­por­tant to un­der­stand- ing progress and stu­dent di­ver­sity, a com­mon talk­ing point in re­cent in­ter­views.

He urged em­ploy­ees to be more em­pa­thetic and cre­ative in 2008. A year later, Stokes em­pha­sized the value of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and trans­parency.

“I was used to 24/7 com­mu­ni­ca­tion with peo­ple that wanted me to clar­ify some­thing, solve some­thing, ar­tic­u­late what I would do,” he said on Thurs­day.

In 2009, he moved up to di­rec­tor of el­e­men­tary ed­u­ca­tion for the dis­trict, a job he would hold un­til 2013. A new su­per­in­ten­dent ar­rived and Stokes learned he would be re­placed, so he asked to be the as­sis­tant prin­ci­pal of Samoset El­e­men­tary School.

He worked at the school un­til his re­tire­ment in 2016. In a re­cent in­ter­view, Stokes said his back­ground in ed­u­ca­tion is no less valu­able than Hopes’ back­ground in busi­ness.

While both are im­por­tant, he said, the dis­trict has a su­per­in­ten­dent, a chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer and two over­sight groups that fo­cus on op­er­a­tions.

“I’m not go­ing to be in­volved in the op­er­a­tions of the dis­trict as a board mem­ber, like I was when I was a prin­ci­pal, a teacher or the di­rec­tor of el­e­men­tary schools,” he said.

HOW ARE THEY FUNDED?

The can­di­dates’ back­grounds are clearly re­flected in their cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions.

As of Oct. 12, Hopes had nearly as many do­na­tions from ad­dresses in Tal­la­has­see (13) as he did from peo­ple and or­ga­ni­za­tions in Braden­ton (18). Twenty per­cent of his over­all do­na­tions came from the state’s cap­i­tal, with the ma­jor­ity com­ing from a sin­gle of­fice.

The fol­low­ing con­trib­u­tors are reg­is­tered to Hopes’ busi­ness part­ner and cam­paign trea­surer, David Ramba:

Ramba Law Group ($1,000)

Ramba Con­sult­ing Group ($256.42)

Florid­i­ans United for a Sus­tain­able Econ­omy ($500)

Fo­cused on Florida’s Fu­ture ($1,000)

Florid­i­ans for Fair In­sur­ance Reg­u­la­tion ($1,000)

The Com­mit­tee for Jus­tice, Trans­porta­tion and Busi­ness ($1,000)

Strong Com­mu­ni­ties of South­west Florida ($1,000)

“If any­body can get some­thing done in Tal­la­has­see and the leg­is­la­tor, on this board, it would be me,” Hopes said.

Florida’s chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer, Jimmy Pa­tro­nis Jr., do­nated $250 to the cam­paign. Hopes re­ceived $150 from Adam Has­ner, the vice pres­i­dent of pub­lic pol­icy for GEO Group, a pri­vate prison com­pany. He was also the for­mer ma­jor­ity leader in the Florida House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

The in­cum­bent re­ceived an­other $250 from Ar­mor Cor­rec­tional Health Ser­vices. Hopes said he co­founded the com­pany, and that Ar­mor Cor­rec­tional pro­vided ser­vices to the Manatee County Jail for sev­eral years.

He earned sup­port from Alice Kad­datz, a reg­u­lar at school board meet­ings. And the board chair re­ceived do­na­tions from Charles Tokarz, a vol­un­teer on the Cit­i­zens Fi­nan­cial Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee, and from the com­mit­tee’s chair­man, Robert Christo­pher.

“It’s great that he has in­flu­ence with some peo­ple, but it’s not lo­cal in­flu­ence,” Stokes said.

“Again, let the vot­ers de­cide.”

As of mid-Oc­to­ber, Stokes re­ceived more than 80 con­tri­bu­tions from cur­rent and for­mer teach­ers, prin­ci­pals, para­pro­fes­sion­als, guid­ance coun­selors and dis­trict ad­min­is­tra­tors.

He re­ceived $500 from the Manatee Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion, along with mul­ti­ple do­na­tions from his past su­per­vi­sors and col­leagues.

For­mer Su­per­in­ten­dent Roger Dear­ing do­nated $250 to the cam­paign. Wal­ter MIller, a pre­vi­ous chair­man on the school board, do­nated sev­eral times, as did Gary Hol­brook, the for­mer prin­ci­pal at Free­dom El­e­men­tary School.

Both can­di­dates re­ceived do­na­tions from lo­cal de­vel­op­ers and con­struc­tion com­pa­nies.

Stokes re­ceived a to­tal of $550 from Miller Re­cre­ation, a com­pany that de­signs and builds play­grounds. He also col­lected $1,000 from Ja­son Bartz, the vice pres­i­dent of de­vel­op­ment for NDC Con­struc­tion, which has a long­stand­ing re­la­tion­ship with the school dis­trict.

NDC’s pres­i­dent, Ron­ald Allen, and its ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent, Gary Hug­gins, do­nated a to­tal of $4,000 be­tween the pri­mary and gen­eral elec­tion. Hopes also re­ceived $1,000 from lo­cal de­vel­oper Pat Neal, and the same amount from Har­vard Jolly Ar­chi­tec­ture.

Stokes av­er­aged $142 per mon­e­tary do­na­tion, while Hopes av­er­aged $520 per con­tri­bu­tion. As of Oct. 12, Stokes’ and Hopes’ spend­ing was nearly iden­ti­cal at $33,121 and $31,322 re­spec­tively.

WHAT ARE THEIR POS­SI­BLE WEAK­NESSES?

Hopes’ first year was noth­ing short of tur­bu­lent.

He and board mem­ber Dave Miner ar­gued out­side the School Sup­port Cen­ter on Feb. 27, di­rectly af­ter a board meet­ing. Hopes still be­lieves Miner tried to run him over, but Braden­ton po­lice de­ter­mined there was no prob­a­ble cause to file an ag­gra­vated as­sault charge.

Board mem­ber Char­lie Kennedy later tried to re­move Hopes from the chair po­si­tion. Kennedy ini­tially said he was dis­turbed by an al­leged com­ment from the chair­man.

Hopes, speak­ing to a po­lice of­fice about Miner, re­port­edly said, “He’s lucky my gun was in my car.”

“What came out of that was a un­der­stand­ing of what trig­gers Mr. Miner, and the board — col­lec­tively — came up with guide­lines for con­duct­ing the board meet­ings and lim­it­ing dis­cus­sion to five min­utes per board mem­ber,” Hopes said.

Hopes feels board meet­ings are shorter and more ef­fi­cient since his ar­rival. The board, he said, has since com­pleted the Mas­ter Board Pro­gram. The pro­gram teaches mem­bers to “work ef­fec­tively, ef­fi­ciently and col­lec­tively,” ac­cord­ing to the Florida School Boards As­so­ci­a­tion.

And though Stokes led a suc­cess­ful ca­reer in Manatee schools, his per­for­mance was ar­guably less im­pres­sive on the dis­trict level.

In 2012-2013, his last year as the di­rec­tor of el­e­men­tary schools, there were more D’s and F’s among the dis­trict’s el­e­men­tary schools than at any point in more than a decade. There were also less A-rated schools, ac­cord­ing to records from the Florida Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion.

And it was rare to see an F-rated school in the past — in Stokes’ last year as di­rec­tor, there were five.

On Thurs­day, Stokes said grades were gen­er­ally down across the state in 2013. He cited new rubrics and harder tests, along with a rig­or­ous sched­ule in his po­si­tion.

“You want to talk about a bar­gain, you’re look­ing at him,” Stokes said. “There’s two di­rec­tors of el­e­men­tary schools now, and they have peo­ple who re­port to them that do cur­ricu­lum. I didn’t have that.”

Pro­vided

From left: Scott Hopes and Joe Stokes

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