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Where’s the apology? Manatee School Board member asks Sarasota colleague for one at annual joint meeting

Sarasota board chair Bridget Ziegler's organization suggested Manatee and other district had gamed the state testing system.
School board members from Charlotte, Manatee and Sarasota counties meet Aug. 22, 2018, for an annual joint session to discuss shared concerns. [ManateeSchools.net]
School board members from Charlotte, Manatee and Sarasota counties meet Aug. 22, 2018, for an annual joint session to discuss shared concerns. [ManateeSchools.net]
Published Aug. 24, 2018

Once each year, the school boards of neighboring Charlotte, Manatee and Sarasota counties convene jointly to discuss issues of shared concern, such as funding and security.

This year's session, held Wednesday, came barely two months after Sarasota's board chair, Bridget Ziegler, essentially accused the Manatee district of playing games with its state civics exam results. She did so through the Florida Coalition of School Board Members, which Ziegler also leads.

Education commissioner Pam Stewart in short order debunked the accusations.

So once sitting in the same room, Manatee board member Charlie Kennedy wanted to hear more from Ziegler.

"We didn't hear anything — 'My bad.' 'Sorry,'" he said to Ziegler, asking her to explain.

Ziegler answered that the accusation "was not specific to Manatee. It wasn't stating that in fact happened. I think the way it was reported was such as that."

Her response so infuriated Kennedy that he shot off a letter the next day to Ziegler — he also posted it on his blog —  blasting Ziegler as a liar.

"Instead of a simple mea culpa, you instead chose to compound the false accusations by lying to everyone in the room – including our Board colleagues, Superintendents, staff and assembled media," he wrote. "Specifically, your defense of your actions in saying 'Manatee County wasn't named in the press release' is proven false by your own press release of Tuesday, June 26."

He included a copy of the release, which has as its subject line, "Subject: Testing Irregularities Cause Florida Coalition of School Board Members calls for investigation of school grade inflation in Duval, Manatee, and Polk Counties, pause of school grades release."

That release is not on the coalition website, but was widely reported at the time.

"We, as board members, are role models for the students we serve. In leading those students, and our school districts, we must hold ourselves, and each other, to the highest ethical standards," Kennedy continued. "Further, in our role as Board members, we should not only be held to account for our failures, but also rise to defend our employees and students from false accusations."

He told the Gradebook he has yet to hear back from Ziegler, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Both Kennedy and Ziegler are seeking reelection in their respective counties.

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