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Manatee school board candidates can’t hide behind nonpartisan politics

Tales from the Mark Side: The Conservative Voice in Manatee County

Manatee school board candidates can’t hide behind nonpartisan politics

By Mark Young


If you haven’t heard much since State Sen. Joe Gruters (R) introduced legislation to require school board races to be partisan elections late last year, it’s because the bill died a quiet death in the Legislature’s education committee in March.

Gruters made the argument that today’s school board races are already partisan in nature and he is absolutely correct, especially in today’s environment.

Candidates should not be able to hide their political beliefs behind the veil of nonpartisan races where full disclosure is essential when it comes to educating our children.

One could argue that’s exactly how liberal policies have been infiltrating our educational system for decades. In the case of Florida, school board races were partisan up until 1998 and I’d say that our educational system was better before the transition. Since then, liberals have been able to hide within the nonpartisan label and, in turn, have gained more and more control.

Not surprising, and certainly more now than ever, people care whether you have a D or an R in front of your name. We’ve seen what liberals are capable of within the educational system so we want to know if a candidate is a Conservative and have the ability to implement those shared values back into our childrens’ education.

The liberal control of the educational system has led us to financial mismanagement, scandal, elements of critical race theory and the necessity for our great Gov. Ron DeSantis to implement common sense laws that protect our youngest children from inappropriate sexual education.

The argument made to oppose the bill was that some believed it would make school board elections more divisive.

That’s a petty “woke” argument to make and is outright nonsense. Those Florida senators serving on the education committee who killed this bill need to be called out and voters should demand an explanation.

So once again, it’s up to us to pay attention. It’s up to us to dig into our local candidates. And here at the Manatee Herald, we are going to do just that as we take our first look at the upcoming school board elections here at home.

In full disclosure, I have not had the chance to speak to each candidate so this is only an initial review.

With that said, let’s take a look at the seats up for grabs and who is vying to fill those seats. Keep in mind that qualifying doesn’t end until mid June and names on the ballot as they stand now could change.

There are three seats up for election this cycle, including Districts 2, 4 and 5, so we’ll take a look at who’s in so far.

District 2 has been occupied by Charlie Kennedy for far too long. Kennedy, to his credit, is not someone you have to figure out where he stands politically. He’s an unapologetic liberal who has no issue with the government dipping deep into the taxpayer’s pocket.

Kennedy also has done nothing about the district’s scandals over the years he has served, and has helped to protect Superintendent Cynthia Saunders through her own scandals.

Kennedy is not in the picture thus far and there are currently two qualified candidates in District 2, to include former Bradenton Councilman Harold Byrd Jr. and a newcomer to Manatee County politics Susan Agruso.

Agruso is no stranger to the district as a member of the school board’s audit committee and has a wealth of educational experience elsewhere outside of Manatee County.

It’s an interesting race.

I’ve known Byrd for a long time and for him being a Democrat, has always been mostly fiscally conservative as a member of the city council. I haven’t always agreed with his decisions, but he votes with his concious and gives serious matters the thought they deserve whether you agree with his final decision or not.

I know Byrd believes in transparency and accountability, but the question for voters is whether Byrd has the political and personal strength to stand up to the liberals in control of the board and administration.

It will be the primary subject of conversation with Byrd when we get the opportunity to speak more in depth. Voters must know where Byrd stands on the subjects most liberals want to force down parents’ throats and we’ll give him a chance to respond to the doubts conservative voters will certainly have in the prospect of electing him.

I have not had the pleasure to speak or meet Agruso. She has an impressive resume’ to be sure and comes from a family who understands service to others and hard work.

My only concern relating to Agruso is her strengths as a candidate, and that would be her educational background, to include being a superintendent of a New York school district for six years.

Given how infected our educational system is by liberal policies, where does Agruso stand? We’ll find out.

In the meantime, I could find no issues with Agruso’s tenure as a superintendent, and she was even honored by the state legislature when she announced her retirement in 2014 before moving to Manatee County the following year.

Given that she served in the Long Island area where Conservatives hold the advantage within a very blue state overall, I’m intrigued to learn more about her politics.

I realize that not having a major scandal as a school district superintendent should not require a lot of kudos, but unfortunately, it does in today’s environment. Agruso also was considered to take the Manatee County position on an interim basis following Dr. Greene’s controversial departure in 2018.

Saunders, if you remember, told the school board that she had no aspirations to become superintendent when her name came up on a list of possible interim replacements. Guess she changed her mind. I wish that was not the case.

So I don’t want to get speculative when it comes to Agruso. She will need to answer a lot of the same questions all of the school board candidates will need to address when it comes to transparency and accountability.

Will her former role as a superintendent affect how she governs this superintendent? We need to know the answer to that question, as well as where she stands on such issues as critical race theory and whether 6-year-olds should be taught gender identity.

We’ll be asking those questions and then we’ll be watching to see if we were told the truth, but I look forward to meeting her at some point.

District 4 also is a two-person race thus far with Chad Coate and Garin Hoover going head to head.

I don’t know Choate personally, but I know of his family’s stellar ties to Manatee High School. Choate was appointed to the position by DeSantis when Scott Hopes resigned from the board to accept his current role as the administrator for Manatee County.

Hopes, of course, also was initially appointed by former Gov. Rick Scott before winning his next election. This will be Choate’s first election and now the voters get to decide.

Choate said he would reinforce DeSantis’ top educational priorities, to include keeping critical race theory out of Florida schools, getting masks off our students and ensuring our youngest children are not taught inappropriate sex education.

Choate really hasn’t had to deal with those priorities at the local level since DeSantis handled all of them at the state level.

So again, I haven’t met Choate, but the biggest complaint I hear from Conservatives is that Choate isn’t challenging the liberal status quo enough to be effective. We’ll ask why that is at some point and Choate will have the opportunity to let voters know exactly where he stands and what he intends to do about it.

I met Hoover when I spoke at the Lakewood Ranch Republic Club and was impressed. At first meeting, I have no doubt that Hoover will challenge the liberal status quo and be a strong conservative voice in a so-called nonpartisan world that is in fact, very partisan and too liberal.

This is by no means an endorsement and is still very much speculation on my part. My choices for candidates will very much depend on further conversations. But I do know we need strength on this school board to enact effective change, transparency and accountability.

I haven’t met Choate to make that determination, but I can declare that Hoover has the ability to make that happen, but again, it’s too soon.

District 5 is a no brainer for me. It comes down to Richard William Tatem, aka Justin America, and James Golden so far.

Tatem hosts the Justin America radio show on 1490 WWPR and is the author of a great little read called, “Interviews with the Founders.”

The book asks questions to our Founding Fathers and are answered through their own writings. You should check it out.

Golden has unsuccessfully ran for a variety of offices several times over the years until he landed on the school board. Thus far – from what I’ve seen in my opinion – his only contribution to the district is a case of possible nepotism and a failure to call for transparency and accountability from this district’s administrative leadership.

Tatem will get some hard questions as we move forward in this election cycle, as well, so you’ll get to know where he stands on the key subjects that matter to our children’s education. But if it remains a two-person race between Tatem and Golden then it’s the one race thus far where I can make an easy endorsement and support Tatem’s bid.

As always patriots, stay vigilant and stay informed. This election cycle isn’t a sprint so we’ll continue to dig and shine a light on just who are the best people that have, and more importantly, can implement Conservative values back into our local educational system.

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