MANATEE -- Vice chairwoman Julie Aranibar has a challenger from District 5 for the next Manatee County School Board election.
Carlton "Les" Nichols filed Friday to run for the school board seat.
Nichols said he became interested in running after watching the 2012 election cycle.
"I was intrigued in the board members' personalities, and I wanted to be involved," Nichols said.
The school board primary is scheduled for Aug. 26, 2014.
"This is going to be a long year," Nichols said. "I am looking forward to keeping Manatee County schools down a forward-thinking road."
One of Nichols' greatest concerns is low-academic performance. Manatee County ranks 47th in the state out of 67 school districts for performance, according to the State Department of Education.
Nichols said Manatee County schools still have a long way to go, and said he would like to see Manatee County elementary schools climb to a top 10 ranking in the state within four years. Nichols said he plans to do this by empowering teachers and keeping teachers in
"There is a lack of focus," Nichols said. "With energy and enthusiasm, I can do a lot of great things to help district become among the top 10 schools."
Nichols is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who has lived in Florida 15 years. He has been working as a property manager with Argus Property Management in Sarasota for the past year and a half. He is married with three children.
Nichols lived in the Panhandle in Navarre Beach before moving to Bradenton, where he said he was able to watch the small town and its school district grow.
He first became involved in politics when he helped form a committee to make Navarre an independent city. The effort failed when the small committee had trouble navigating the Florida League of Cities and the state Legislature, he said. But the effort sparked his passion for community involvement.
In Manatee County, Nichols said he has noticed a lack of harmony and communication within the school board.
"I see there are disagreements on certain items, which is good, we have that option to disagree, but in order for the board to be successful it has to be on the same page," Nichols said. "Right now I see a lack of communication."
Nichols said transparency is a top priority. As a candidate for the school board, he plans to sit down school by school with teachers and community members to see what their biggest concerns are.
"That's what we should be doing year-round," Nichols said. "This is really about the children and the people who live in the community who have children. This is not just about Les or Julie or Mr. Miner, but about the 6- or 7-year-old child who needs motivation."
Nichols said regaining trust from the community will be his greatest challenge in overcoming a past marked by poor planning.
"Some of the board members are not overtly outspoken enough for what I've seen," Nichols said.
Nichols said he had not heard of Aranibar until he decided to run. He said he is looking forward to having a discussion with Superintendent Rick Mills, who Nichols has not met in person yet.
"I think he is doing a fantastic job, and I liked his 100-day plan," Nichols said.
Nichols said he does not know much about the school board members personally, but he was "impressed" with Mills' conduct at a school board meeting he attended in July.
"The campaign is still young," Nichols said. "I have to raise funds, and with talking to people, I am hoping I'll be able to connect with people in the community who are willing to offer support."
Erica Earl, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081